The irony of aggregating content in a blog post about the ethical issues of aggregating content is not lost on me. However, as a journalism student, it is my responsibility to keep abreast of the trends and issues surrounding this practice.
As the different platforms by which we consume news are evolving, and the lines that once kept them distinct from each other are blurring, so too are the rules that govern our journalistic practices. We are operating in uncharted, or at best, murky territory.
It is argued that aggregation is a form of theft or plagiarism. A journalist has done all the hard work researching, compiling, writing and editing content that is then picked up by an aggregator to be presented via their own channel as “new content”. Often links to the original source are hidden, or content is rewritten or summarised to the extent that there is no incentive for readers to click back to the original. The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed have both been accused of this practice. Sometimes original sources are inadequately attributed, if at all.
There are still ways to operate ethically, particularly for those budding journalists wanting to earn a reputation for professional integrity and credibility.
This Harvard Law report by Kimberley Isbell is a must-read because it details legal implications and “best practices” for news aggregators using content that isn’t their own. If you scroll to the bottom of this post by Nieman Journalism Lab, you’ll find they’ve summarised the report’s “best practice” suggestions succinctly.
Steve Buttry is an Editor at Digital First Media, who, besides making an interesting point that news aggregation isn’t a new practice, has written comprehensive guidelines for aggregators in this blog post.
Essentially, what these guidelines all point to is that you should “link, attribute and add value” (Buttry 2012). What should really be “best practice” for journalists however, is to always write your own, original news stories.