Social meda whiz Steve Buttry loves to deliver guidance on how to produce journalism on the Internet. In a post this week titled “Aggregation guidelines: Link, attribute, add value,” Buttry, who is director of community engagement and social media for Digital First Media, issued this brief history of content aggregation:
[A]ggregation has a long, proud and ethical history in journalism. If you’re an old-school journalist, don’t think Huffington Post or Drudge when you think about aggregation; think AP. The Associated Press is primarily an aggregation service*, except that it its members pay huge fees for the privilege of being aggregated (and for receiving content aggregated from other members).
See that asterisk in there? That’s anchored to this text, in which Buttry appears to hedge a bit on his AP slam: “*Yes, I know that AP produces original content. So does Huffington Post. In fact, both won Pulitzer Prizes this year. But both also heavily aggregate as well. If the analogy isn’t perfect, at least it’s fair.”
Figuring that this assessment of the Associated Press has to be infuriating the Associated Press, I contacted the Associated Press, whose spokesman gave me this repudiation: “This claim is ridiculous. Of the 3,700 staffers of the AP posted around the world, two-thirds are gathering news for all formats.”
But Buttry (a former colleague of mine at TBD.com) doesn’t appear to be copping to the “ridiculous” part. His resume is thick with newspaper jobs — he’s the former editor of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for instance — and uses that background to hit the AP:
I noted that the AP also produces original Pulitzer Prize-winning content. But I have been an editor and reporter using the AP’s service in five different states, and I feel very confident in saying that a huge amount of AP content (increasingly so as it has cut its state staffs) comes from its members. I know the state report is heavily aggregation and many of the national stories are state stories of national interest. Obviously the world report is heavily, if not entirely, original, but the importance of the world report to members is diminishing. I also have observed that national stories produced by AP staffers draw heavily on members’ coverage.
I have discussed the weakness of the AP state reports’ original content with multiple editors in multiple states and with AP executives and managers. When I was in Cedar Rapids (and gave the AP notice that we intended to leave), I had some editors who handle our state wire keep tabs for a week or two of how much was member content that we could get through a content-sharing network of Iowa newspapers. I don’t remember the percentage, but it was high, higher than I thought. I stand beside what I wrote. My reporting is more than 30 years’ experience at AP member news organizations.
Despite his reaffirmation, Buttry says he’s considering changing the word “primarily” in his post. Ah, he just did that, saying the service is “largely” aggregational. That probably won’t please the people at AP, who snapped back when apprised of Buttry’s detailed assessment:
As a cooperative owned by its roughly 1,500 member papers, the AP picks up a number of member stories each day and shares them on our state news wires while noting the stories’ origins. A tiny percentage of these (less than 2 percent), typically exclusives and also credited to the originating papers, end up among an entirely separate selection of international, national, business, entertainment and other stories that AP licenses to commercial customers such as Google News and Yahoo News and thousands of other websites.
What’s more, AP offers ways for its member papers to share their stories with one another.
If there’s any salience to the Buttry-AP thing, it’s that aggregation — at least as it’s known in Internet journalism — hasn’t yet matured into a respected enterprise. Saying that a news organization does a lot of it remains an accusation to be refuted.