Opinion

Jack Shafer

BuzzFeed gets serious

Jack Shafer
Dec 12, 2011 23:21 UTC

BuzzFeed, the aggregation/social-media site, has thrown itself into the content creation business with some big hires. Today, BuzzFeed’s co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti crowed about picking up Politico’s Ben Smith as its editor-in-chief. Smith, as Politico readers know, breaks news the way rioters break glass: Frequently and with glee. Last week, BuzzFeed added Whitney Jefferson and Matt Cherette from the Gawker enterprise, and a dozen new editorial hires are promised.

The addition of original content (also known as “journalism”) to the aggregator model isn’t without precedent. There are plenty of large Web sites that devote themselves to both, such as Huffington Post, Mediaite, Business Insider, Atlantic Wire, and Gawker, to name a few. But for an established aggregator like BuzzFeed to enter the original content sweepstakes at this point is a little like a slaughterhouse attaching a storefront to its entrance and opening a steakhouse in hopes of selling even more meat.

Actually, the BuzzFeed transition will be even bigger than from slaughterhouse to steakhouse. Today, it’s essentially an entertainment site, a place best known for its goofy distractions and silly videos. Smith tells Nieman Journalism Lab that his goal is to “hire reporters who get scoops the same way they have always have” with phone calls, “trips to Iowa, drinks with political operatives.”

The economics of adding original content to an aggregation site are strong. Take, for example, Fark, the popular social media and aggregation site that Drew Curtis started in 1999 and still runs. Curtis describes Fark as a bit of a closed loop: 96 percent of its traffic is “organic,” which means most of its users reach the site by directly entering its URL or by clicking a bookmark for it. Similarly, its inbound traffic of 50 million page views a month is equal to its outbound traffic of about 50 million clicks to other sites. This means that that on average, Fark visitors tend to click one link out to one original page for each page of Fark that they consume.

“I could double my traffic overnight if I started doing original content,” Curtis says. Original pieces would obviously attract additional page views. More elaborate summaries of other sites’s stories by staffers, especially summaries that are especially insightful or argumentative, could possibly capture many of the page views that Fark currently sends to the story originators (in its current iteration, Fark provides only a snappy headline for the outbound links).

My Romenesko verdict: no harm, no foul

Jack Shafer
Nov 12, 2011 00:10 UTC

Media columnist Jim Romenesko—who was scheduled to depart his full-time position at the Poynter Institute at the end of the year, anyway—vacated it abruptly yesterday after his boss, Julie Moos, publicly criticized his “incomplete” methods of attributing other journalists’ copy in his summaries of their work.

For those who haven’t followed the story—and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, because it’s so inside baseball it’s inside the laces of the ball—Romenesko has been writing a Web-based cheat sheet about the news business since 1999. The column, which the non-profit Poynter Institute picked up in 2000, has been an indispensable destination for journalists and civilians interested in the media. (Interests declared: Romenesko has cited my work many times since 1999. For the last 10 weeks, Poynter has been paying me to participate in weekly, hour-long Web chats with readers.)

In declaring a “pattern of incomplete attribution,” Moos pointed to a recent example from Romenesko’s work in which he ran whole sentences from a Chicago Tribune story in his summary of it without placing the words in quotation marks or block quotation to indicate its exact provenance.

How to think about plagiarism

Jack Shafer
Oct 14, 2011 21:50 UTC

An editor must have a heart like leather. Not freshly tanned leather—all supple and yielding like a baby’s bum—but like an abandoned baseball glove that’s been roasting in the Sonoran Desert for five or six years. Only those who are hard of heart can properly deal with the plagiarists who violate the journalistic code.

I’m pleased to report that this morning Politico‘s top editors, John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, were rock-hearted in resolving charges that their reporter, Kendra Marr, lifted material from the New York Times, the Associated Press, Scripps Howard, Greenwire, The Hill, and elsewhere for at least seven of her stories with no attribution. Marr has resigned. Harris and VandeHei’s compact statement about Marr’s disgrace doesn’t use the word plagiarism, but should, as my friend the press critic Craig Silverman points out. I agree.

“There are no mitigating circumstances for plagiarism,” the cold, cold heart of Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli stated earlier this year after Post reporter Sari Horwitz got caught stealing copy from the Arizona Republic.

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