But you know what? I knuckled down and found a way to say things in my own words, because I am a journalist, and that is my job. No matter how monotonous the assignment—and, believe me, aggregating and summarizing Washington Post stories for Today’s Papers was a very monotonous assignment—I was supposed to do what I could to bring my own insight and descriptive powers to bear on the material I had to work with. That’s the value add, as they say.
The practice of stopping to say things in your own words isn’t just an obsolete ideal imposed on journalists by reactionaries and pedants. Having to consider and articulate things for yourself leads to better comprehension of the source material and, subsequently, better analysis. Sure, if your job is content aggregation, you might not have much space to work with. But there’s a lot you can do in a little space. The words you choose can convey analysis, emphasis, skepticism, humor. You can use your close reading of the text to improve others’ understanding of it. You can offer criticism, or comparative analysis. If you’re not going to do that, well, then just give a link and let the people who did the work the first time tell the story. Or, at the very least, use quotation marks when you’re using somebody else’s words.
The fact that Romenesko did things this way means that he didn’t do them another, better way. Is this a big deal? Depends on your tolerance for nitpicking, I guess. If I were in Julie Moos’s position, I would have handled this much differently. (I would have started by reversing whatever ill-conceived summertime directive forced Romenesko and his assistants to expand their posts to four times their necessary length.) But it is odd to criticize a journalism ethics institute for caring too much about journalism ethics, and it is disingenuous to say that there was no error here out of a historical respect and affinity for Jim Romenesko (and the traffic he commands) and an uncertainty about whether aggregators should be subject to the same rules as other journalists.
I see no reason why they shouldn’t. And the fact that you’re a famous blogger-aggregator with a distinctive style shouldn’t insulate you from criticism if “style” becomes an excuse for sloppy work. I assume I would have been fired from Slate if I would’ve just copy-and-pasted unattributed news content and passed them off as my own words. I was, and remain, just some guy whom nobody knows, after all, not some KING of the blogosphere. And I wonder if the blogosphere would’ve been so quick to come to my defense.