Meanwhile, Moos says these lengthier posts have coincided with a period of renewed success for Poynter. After watching its audience of newsroom employees decline in 2009, she said in our interview before Jim Romenesko resigned, that the site has pursued “a deliberate strategy to bring some new audiences” by “bringing new types of content, new sources, new writers, and by giving Jim the kind of break he asked for that he hoped would allow him to do some more original reporting.”

Moos doesn’t know how effective these changes have been, but she says their audience has “grown exponentially” this year, and that she believes social media deserves some of the credit.

Social Media and Linking

I raised questions about Poynter’s social media strategy in my interview with Moos as well, noting my concern that Romenesko+’s methods of tweeting and linking compound the over-aggregation problem. When Poynter tweets a story to its 38,000 followers, it is often not to the original reported story, but to Poynter’s summary of it. In yesterday’s debate, the issue was also raised by Forbes’s Jeff Bercovici:

…I don’t love the practice of tweeting links to Poynter pickups instead of original stories. If you’re gonna fix something, fix that.

Moos told me Poynter’s rationale for tweeting links is this: they will link to their Poynter stories if they involve original reporting or original thought; otherwise they will tweet a direct link to the story. She conceded that at times they may have misjudged the originality of their aggregated posts, and she plans to monitor their practices more closely now. She assured me that the intent of Romenesko+ is what it has always been: to bring traffic to journalists, not take it from them.

I also raised questions about the site’s linking practices, which I believe could be made more clear and user-friendly, and as a result better Poynter’s ability to give credit where credit is due.

Many of the recent aggregated posts feature only one link to the original article, and finding it isn’t a particularly intuitive process: if you click on the post’s larger, more obvious headline, you get a permalink to the Romenesko+ post. If you click on the name of the source, which runs below the byline and is smaller and lighter-colored green, you will link to the original article.

Attribution

Attribution in these posts was mystifyingly inconsistent, and I did plan to ask Moos about this. At times, quotation marks or block quotes are used to set off the original author’s words. This makes instances in which they are not, odd, and suggest that they are instead the words of the aggregator.

In some of the examples I sent Moos, sentences were modified just slightly—with the substitution of a single word or a slight change in phrasing. This makes it even more unclear who has written what.

Though Moos’s post only addressed examples of this in Romenesko’s work, I also had provided her with two recent posts written by Taegan Goddard that used this sort of unclear attribution.

From Taegan Goddard’s November 2 piece, “Local Reporters get rare White House access” compare this sentence from Mike Allen’s original write-up:

It’s a 21st-century update to the old “radio row,” which let talk-show hosts to broadcast from the White House, with West Wing officials going from microphone to microphone during drive-time shows.

With this one, written by Goddard (his is unusual in the inclusion of the link to Allen):

Mike Allen called it a 21st-century update to the old “radio row,” in which talk-show hosts broadcast from the White House with administration officials “going from microphone to microphone during drive-time shows.”
A number of journalists dismissed the idea that there was anything improper about this yesterday, arguing Romenesko has done this for years and everyone knows this is the work of another reporter. Others called it plagiarism, a label that Moos (and I) resisted, explaining that Romenesko’s intent was clearly to give credit to the author and not to deceive the audiences.

But I would argue that the point here is merely that Poynter should and could—very easily—do better with regard to attribution, nothing more.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.