The question is, How much of this kind of thing is your secondary work, and how much is your primary work? Slate has been doing aggregation-like activities from day one, but Slate itself also has a distinct sensibility and set of activities that it pursues on its own. With the kind of journalism and analysis that we do, there’s a huge, rich environment that Slate has created. “The Slatest” is one part of it, but it’s not the defining part of it. I think that the best media sites find a way to combine aggregation-like features with their own unique strength. That’s true of The Huffington Post, which does a ton of aggregation but also has a very organic set of blogs and articles, it’s true of The Atlantic Wire, it’s true of The Daily Beast . There are very few sites that exist as stand-alone aggregation efforts that I think are any good.
The Drudge Report would have been the first one, right?
Oh, Drudge is so interesting. There’s no original content there, right. Drudge is just a different thing altogether! He just has this incredible curatorial mind. Drudge, and sites like Arts & Letters Daily—those sites which don’t repackage content at all, they just link out—those are also very valuable, but those are a different kind of thing altogether.
Do you ever fear that there will be, if not more websites, more people on staff at websites who are devoting their days to linking and summarizing, more than people producing original content? What if we run out of people doing original content and there’s nothing left to link to?
That’s one of the things that I think about when I’m talking to young journalists, is that so many of them are going to go into jobs that are not reporting jobs, or even editing jobs—they are aggregation jobs. That’s a worry. But at the same time that that’s happening, there’s been just a massive proliferation of new journalistic content. It’s not exactly what we had before, but there’s a huge explosion of blogs and a huge explosion of hyperlocal journalism, sometimes by amateurs—some of which is very synthetic, but some of which is very original.
So I’m not panicked about it in any sense. There is less of certain kinds of journalism today than there was five or ten years ago—the city newspaper entrepreneurial reporting projects have been really hurt. But while there’s less original foreign reporting by newspapers, on the other hand, there’s a huge amount of amateur foreign reporting. There’s great work that people are doing of synthesizing on-the-ground citizen journalism and making it into a useful product for a general-interest audience.
The Osama raid Twitter feed is a classic example—there’s a citizen who is monitoring what’s going on in his neighborhood and writing about it, and it reaches an international audience almost instantly. So while it’s true that no one got paid for that, except for people who repackaged it and sold advertising off of it, I suppose, it had this quality of bringing news out to the world in a quick and useful way. So yes, it’s harder now to be a young journalist, and the kinds of jobs that young journalists are going into are not always super desirable. But there’s no shortage of journalism and good news writing being created.
So you’re saying, things might seem bleak from a student’s perspective, but the news is a force that will happen no matter what.