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The top five dilemmas of news aggregation

Seminar Report

The more news is produced by the media, the greater the need for news aggregation.  Broadsheets have been seeking to respond, says Andrew Jack of the Financial Times.  His newspaper alone produces more than 120 articles a day, including long in-depth investigations.  Compared to the huge resources used to produce them, there remains modest investment in new ways to get the product to its users.

Andrew, a former reporter and FT correspondent in Paris and Moscow, was asked last autumn to form a team to develop “smart aggregation” for the FT.  He prefers the term “curation”. This highlights what he sees as the similarities with the work of museum curators who pick art works from their own and other collections and put them together in one place with a special and coherent narrative that attracts more visitors.

The FT turned to a longer established form of digital distribution channel as one initial focus for its new effort – the email. A daily curated newsletter called “First FT” lists some key stories of the day (“Be Briefed before Breakfast”), including from other media.  The London edition of the newsletter is produced during the night at the FT’s Hong Kong and Manila offices and delivered at 6 am GMT.  It is wider in scope than the FT’s financial newsletter “alphaville” (started in 2006) or the automated emails connected to topics.  It is updated in London for US east coast early morning distribution.

Another, even newer channel for aggregating news is a daily video roundup showing 3 stories in 60 seconds.  It started in January and is still rather experimental, as Andrew conceded.

News aggregation poses five “dilemmas”, in Andrew’s words.  There’s the obvious question of whether to aggregate news automatically - using “opaque algorithms” like Facebook, Yahoo or Google - or with a journalist hand-picking articles (obviously the method you prefer when you are called “chief curator”). 

Other dilemmas are whether you undermine or promote rivals (‘First FT’ includes up to 50 percent non-FT content, because it wants to be seen as a trustworthy intermediary), and how much resources you divert from “native journalism” into the business of showcasing and distributing content online.  There’s also the question of “quantity or quality”, and whether to just attribute content or give direct links.

In the discussion following Andrew’s talk, more dilemmas arose – ranging from copyright problems to the question what use the “First FT” newsletter is to non-subscribers, since they can only see a limited number of the linked articles. Does it have an information value in itself?

As to the five “dilemmas” he had mentioned, Andrew said, “the answer should lie somewhere in the middle”.

Written by Christian Esch.

Andrew Jack, Editor at FirstFT, head of aggregation/chief curator, spoke at the Business and Practice of Journalism seminar at Green Templeton College on Wednesday 4 February 2015.

Photo credit: Workers cross London Bridge, with Tower Bridge seen behind, during the morning rush hour in London September 30, 2011. © REUTERS/Paul Hacket