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 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.
Moos wrote that she had discovered this “incomplete attribution” when she looked back at Jim Romenesko’s earlier work. I did not find this to be the case, probably because his posts used to be so short. My search of the archives was limited, but it appeared to me that the frequent “incomplete attribution” started creeping into Poynter’s blog posts earlier this year when they became noticeably longer, and, I would argue, ‘over-aggregated.’
I raised these questions with Moos not because I wanted Jim Romenesko to resign or because I wanted to “destroy his reputation” as certain commenters have wildly suggested. I have read Romenesko feverishly—every day, multiple times a day for many years. Jim Romenesko did a lot of good for a long time; his blog provided a tremendous service to the journalist community by bringing together stories, serving as a community bulletin board, and sending journalists bigger audiences for their good work. That is in part why I asked my questions and embarked on this story, because it seemed to me that some noteworthy things had changed.
In recent the months, the industry has been grappling with standards and best practices for aggregation. This is an important discussion to have. And Poynter—an institute that regularly weighs in on these matters—needs to honestly consider its own practices while advocating standards for the rest of community.