Part of my daily online reading habits consists of scanning a few tech blogs to see what's new. To satisfy both my professional and personal curiosity, I'll surf over to engadget.com, gizmodo.com, tuaw.com and boygeniusreport.com and perhaps a couple more similar sites.
Generally speaking, they report on almost exactly the same stuff. Specifically speaking, they are scanning the Web then summarizing other pubs' news and calling it their own.
Today, for instance, each site is telling the same story about the new iPhone's capability to conduct video chats. They're using the same screen shots, the same details, and none of them have done any original reporting other than Engadget, which admits it has done a "cursory search on Twitter" to unearth some details about upcoming commercials to be directed by Sam Mendes. It's been a while since I took my last reporting class, but last I checked, a cursory Twitter search isn't investigative journalism at its finest.
Every now and then, one of these sites will actually break its own news, like when Gizmodo bought and dissected that "stolen" 4G iPhone prototype. But more often, their M.O. is aggregating news, slightly rewriting a lede, ganking a photo and collecting page (and ad) impressions through their passionate readership.
Not a bad business model, is it?
Though it's not the way we do things over here at OnMilwaukee.com, it makes sense, and that's why we created The In Click Network last year, a group of sites that aggregate content in the same way. These sites operate separately from OnMilwaukee.com, and don't claim to be anything other than what they are. I wouldn't call them journalism, either. I'd call them Web applications.
Because journalistically speaking, I'm wondering about the ethics of just re-purposing content. It's something we've taken a stand of against at our own flagship product. If you haven't read it here first, then you haven't read it, since unless it's accidental, we don't mine other publications for story ideas.
That's not the way it is in other media outlets around Milwaukee, however. The newspaper has long complained that TV and radio news just rip and read their content without attribution. And if I had a nickel for every unique feature story that was first reported on OnMilwaukee.com and then showed up in the newspaper weeks or months later, well, I'd be that dot-com millionaire I hoped to be by now.
But do readers care?
Do readers even remember?
I vacillate on my stance on this issue. On one hand, I don't think readers care where they read it, as long as they get their information. They don't remember specific sources since they click on, listen or watch so much media these days that it all becomes a blur. They don't have brand loyalty anymore, and most don't discriminate between blogs written from some guy's basement to exposés published from inside a Pulitzer Prize winning newsroom.
They get their news from Twitter and Facebook and texts and everywhere in between, and this trend is what has old-school media in a full-fledged panic. In short, why devote resources to reporting when your content is going to be stolen, anyway?
On my more optimistic days, I think readers do care and remember where they read it first, even if it's buried into their subconscious. Over time, they see the value in a publication that produces original content, and it becomes their go-to source. Or at least their first go-to source.
Using my example from above, it's why I visit boygeniusreport.com and gizmodo.com more than tuaw.com or cnet.com -- I notice better, more original reporting from these sites. It's the same reason some people outside New York prefer The New York Times over the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Some care, some don't.
These are the questions I ponder every time someone asks me if OnMilwaukee.com ever intends to cover hard news, or to increase our business content, or to write more politics articles. I usually respond that, with a staff of seven full-time reporters who publish about 120 pieces of original content each week, we'd rather not stretch ourselves any more thinly -- and more importantly, our staff is set up to cover lifestyle and entertainment news extremely well. We'd rather not expand into something and not excel at it.
But, of course, we could. Especially if we followed that "rip and read" mentality, or perhaps if we started publishing wire content like so many already do.
My inclination, however, is that this mindset sets a bad precedent. People like our work because it's our work. We call ourselves Milwaukee experts, and we take pride in that label. We should keep on keeping on, expanding vertically when possible, improving what we already do.
I'd be interested to hear what you think. Use the Talkback feature below and let me know if you remember -- or if you care -- where you read your news. Does original reporting still matter? Or is it an antiquated notion that isn't relevant in this nouveau, social media obsessed culture?
Andy, I don't know what others do but I regularly read daily a number of online publications for my information. Each of these sites bring some different news or a different viewpoint, so I think it's essential to touch them all. Many of them are online versions of print( MJS, NYT, Chicago Tribunie, Washington Post) and yes, I would pay a reasonable amount to subscribe, if they weren't free
When the issue is controversial, I look for a byline. If that byline is credible I give the information more weight than if it's a ranting raving commentator or rip-and-reprint.
I do think that the internet sites, like yours, that provide a comment by readers enhance the information. I enjoy and learn from people bringing credible viewpoints to an argument. What you might investigate is the quality of comments you get on an issue. It may give you a far better insight into the quality of information you're dispensing and the need for the coverage.
What I wish is that whoever is monitoring your comments would simply get rid of all the flaming and hate mail. These online tirades contribute nothing to thoughtful dialogue. I don't want to stifle conversation, but some of the dreck that you and others allow adds nothing.
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