Wednesday, March 16, 2011

All the Aggregation That’s Fit to Aggregate

The executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, wrote a fascinating piece in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It sort of hit me between the eyes, because I am self conscious (feel like I'm being lazy, in fact, even though this blog takes a bloody lot of time to do) - about the fact that this MindBlog is mainly an aggregator, rather than a reporter of my own original ideas. (Emails from reader grateful at having been made aware of this or that bit of information temper my self flagellation just a bit.) Keller notes how:
...our fascination with capital-M Media is so disengaged from what really matters.
...Much as the creative minds of Wall Street found a way to divorce investing from the messiness of tangible assets, enabling clients to buy shadows of shadows, we in Media have transcended earthbound activities like reporting, writing or picture-taking and created an abstraction — a derivative — called Media in which we invest our attention and esteem. Possibly I am old-fashioned, but in these days when actual journalists are laboring at actual history, covering the fever of democracy in Arab capitals and the fever of austerity in American capitals, the obsession with the theoretical and self-referential feels to me increasingly bloodless...We have flocks of media oxpeckers who ride the backs of pachyderms, feeding on ticks. We have a coterie of learned analysts...who meditate on the meta of media. By turning news executives into celebrities, we devalue the institutions that support them, the basics of craft and the authority of editorial judgment.
Then he goes after the Huffington Post (which I glance at daily):
“Aggregation” can mean smart people sharing their reading lists, plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe. It kind of describes what I do as an editor. But too often it amounts to taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material. In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model...The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come.

...some of the great aggregators, Huffington among them, seem to be experiencing a back-to-the-future epiphany. They seem to have realized that if everybody is an aggregator, nobody will be left to make real stuff to aggregate. Huffington has therefore hired a small stable of experienced journalists, including a few from here, to produce original journalism about business and politics...if serious journalism is about to enjoy a renaissance, I can only rejoice. Gee, maybe we can even get people to pay for it.


  1. Somehow Deric, your aggregating doesn't equate with Bill Keller's concerns. Perhaps it's because you yourself are a pachyderm. Certainly, I've never experienced your blog as some kind of oxpecker.

    Your blog enables me to walk into minds and labs of scientists I wouldn't otherwise meet. Including yourself.

    I know you put a lot of work into this project. So again, thank you.

    Highest regards,


  2. Hey, thanks for the sweet feedback! It does give me a lift when readers tell me they value my puttering with the blog.