Aggregation is an underappreciated art. Sure, with a quick tutorial, almost anyone can perform some version of it. But I have stumbled across only a few individuals and media outlets who have done it really well for any length of time on the web.
Jim Romenesko has heavily influenced the practice of online aggregation. By many accounts, he was one of its inventors and early experimenters. For more than a decade on his eponymous blog, he aggregated news about the media industry with an astounding rapidity and regularity that made his updates as reliable as the rising of the sun (except, of course, on Saturdays and Sundays).
And yet now, here we are, minus Romenesko, at least in the role in which we most love and rely on him. The eye-poppingly stunning manner in which his association with The Poynter Institute was severed yesterday is the talk of the journalism cosmos. His own minders publicly flogged him in a post on his own blog for a practice that some are declaring questionable and others are defending with gusto.
I will leave it to the news media ethics cognoscenti to determine if there has truly been any actual fault in Romenesko’s handling of the news copy to which he was linking. I am currently too dazed by this whole “bizarre spat” (as a New York Times Media Decoder post calls it) to really dive in. And I am possibly too entrenched in the pro-Romenesko camp to be able to judge it with objectivity.
Regardless of the ugly way in which he has been forced to say goodbye, his retirement (or at least retirement from uber-aggregation) had been imminent — a few months away.
The Very Best of Aggregation
Romensko’s blog never sported a snappy header image, snazzy interface or a memorable web address. But it did, through its namesake, embody the very best of aggregation.
Romenesko spread the word about the big stories quick. He ferreted out the smaller stories deserving a spotlight. He maintained a professional, almost invisible, voice, displaying smidgens of snark or righteousness only when he was calling out individuals or organizations who deserved it. Until recently, when the blog format switched, he gave media watchers just enough to whet our appetites about an item without drowning us in minutia or holding us up from scrolling down. And he brought public attention to internal industry decisions and disputes with such frequency that those in power long ago came to accept and expect it.
St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans confirms: “Romenesko’s site has been a favorite of reporters, editors, administrators and all sorts of folks connected to the media industry, especially in print. For about a dozen years, he’s gathered together the most important news from all corners of the biz to one spot, creating an amazing platform for ideas and gossip that I have benefited from many times over.”
Media Decoder accurately notes that for many of us, a spot on his blog was seen as a short-term land-grab of “the best real estate in American journalism.” I vividly recall the most recent time I was mentioned in a summary. It triggered a torrent of sheer joy that lasted the full 24 hours or so that the post was on the homepage. It is a physical reaction only those in the journalism community can truly understand, one I would describe as Romenesko+.
Kerfluffle Over Attribution
Romenesko had announced over the summer that he was shifting his focus to larger projects and a new web base, JimRomenesko.com, “a blog about media … and other things I’m interested in.” He specifically (under)stated that he would no longer be providing “three-sentence summaries of other people’s work.”
But he told The New York Times yesterday he had hoped to segue quietly. That is no longer possible. His legacy in respect to aggregation and online journalism also will now include an asterisk and an outline of what Deggans describes as a “kerfluffle over attribution” and what Felix Salmon from Reuters has dubbed “Romeneskogate.”
It will also include the many statements of what Romenesko is calling “incredible support.” They continue flowing into comment boxes, Twitter feeds, blog posts, and news reports. Many are from angry journalists declaring their allegiance to Romenesko and condemning the charges by Poynter as a “preposterous plagiarism assault,” (Gawker) “a nothingburger” (Time’s James Poniewozik),” and a heinous way to treat a man whose work “put Poynter on the map as an online destination” (American Journalism Review).
A Strange New Reality
Now on day two of this kerfluffle, questions hang in the air: What are the proper ethics for aggregators? Is Poynter’s reputation among its core constituents forever tarnished? And who or what will fill the Romenesko void?
As a Pennsylvania native, it has been a weird few days, watching Joe Paterno, a man larger than the institution at which he was employed, be forced out. The departure has left a strange new reality forced to soldier on in its wake. As one Penn State University superfan messaged me, “Will Saturdays ever be the same?”
The context surrounding that case and this one are of course monumentally different. But the similarities in respect to how they have played out are impossible to ignore. Romenesko, a man larger than the institution at which he was employed, has been prominently, suddenly and unceremoniously forced out, leading to raucous showings of support from his fans and a black cloud hanging over Poynter’s future. Will every day but Saturday and Sunday ever be the same?
Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published in fall 2010 by Rutgers University Press.