News aggregation: Both friend and foe

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News aggregation is both the best thing and the worst thing about the Internet, said Forbes leadership editor Fred Allen in a conference call Wednesday that focused on how best to leverage the powerful tool that’s become popular in the wake of social media and blogging.

“There are a lot of ways to aggregate and repackage that add value, but there are other ways that amount to not much more than stealing a post,” Allen said.

The key to creating a merit-worthy story that contains news aggregation is to somehow add value, whether that be passing along a great article to readers, providing a valuable roundup or stating an opinion,  backing it up with what others have previously written.

Even with this value-added approach in mind, the lines can still be blurred between providing good aggregation versus bad aggregation, and Allen broke down the distinct differences between the two radically different kinds of articles.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

When aggregating news for a story, a reporter must always keep in mind that published works often are copyrighted, and that he or she needs to adhere to fair use guidelines to avoid legal action and be tactful in providing proper credit to the original author, said Kai Falkenberg, a legal counsel at Forbes, during the conference call.

Some keys of appropriate aggregation are firstly to clearly identify and link to your sources. Allen suggests linking both at the beginning and end of a story to provide readers an ample opportunity to click on and go to the original story.

Quotes should also be brief and clear, typically using no more than one paragraph of direct text from a news story. Quoting more than is needed can lead to the issue of the aggregated article becoming a substitute for the original work.

Crossing the Line

Examples of bad aggregation include aggregating simply to steal traffic, being less than explicit that the story is aggregating and concealing links.

In 2011, Huffington Post reporter Amy Lee over-aggregated AdAge’s story about former  Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Steve Jobs and Apple going head to head on social media networks, both making headlines the same day.

The story, Allen said, not only concealed the link to the story, but aggregated the story so much that it essentially plagiarized and replaced the original story. The Huffington Post reporter, Lee, was suspended briefly but resumed her post more than a month later.

When Aggregation is the Friend

Though aggregation can be a way to run into trouble, if it is done right and adds value, it can be a great way to get traffic without a significant amount of time and work, Allen said.

One excellent way to leverage aggregation as a beneficial tool is to use previously written articles to back up an opinion or fresh idea that a reporter wants to post.

For example, in early November following the election, Allen wrote a story titled “Romney the Great Manager? Not Nearly as Good as Obama, the Election Proved.”

“I didn’t want to depend on my own voice, so I used the voice of experts to help me make the point that I wanted to make,” Allen said during the conference call.

This value-added approach, while consciously ensuring that proper credit is being given to the original news source and that the new story doesn’t act simply as a replacement, make for the best utilization of the powerful tool of aggregation.

“I don’t think there is too much aggregation,” Allen said. “There is just doing it in the right and wrong way. As long as there is a desire for the topic and you are adding value, it’s OK.”