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Aggregation as a business model

August 4: Last year, much of the media was up in arms over the rising use of aggregation used by some bloggers, websites and news organizations. Copyright laws were debated while one Washington Post reporter titled a blog The death of journalism after his article was aggregated by Gawker.

Nowadays, the word aggregation is getting a different sort of response as news organizations experiment with new models in a media environment where healthy linking is becoming more the norm.

This linking mentality is something McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee embraced with its April launch of Sacramento Connect, an aggregation site that links to area bloggers and local news organizations. Although still in alpha mode, Sean McMahon, digital product development manager at the Sac Bee, said it’s already become much bigger than first anticipated with more than 80 partners, including some professional news organizations like Sacramento Magazine and FOX40, a local Fox television affiliate. When the site launches in beta later this summer, the list of partners will continue to grow, he noted.

For the Sac Bee, the decision to launch an aggregation site stemmed from a business decision to experiment with a different sort of news model, including inviting local bloggers to get more recognition. “We recognize we’re not the only people creating media and covering our neighborhood and we wanted to find a way to embrace all of these voices,” McMahon said. Meanwhile, the Sac Bee isn’t the only news organization to try out the aggregation model. “I think there’s a lot of quiet experimentation going on,” he said.

Jeremiah Kastner came up with the idea for TheDailyGlobe.com out of a desire to create a news outlet that he would personally want to use, he said. TheDailyGlobe.com, also launched in April, aggregates news categorized by state or country. “We don’t scrape content and don’t plan to. We use RSS feeds from sites that have been hand picked by our editors so that the content is more relevant to the city or topic we are launching. What we learned early on is that it is ok to syndicate content as long as we are limiting the amount of content in an RSS feed,” he said in an e-mail interview. Although they had one publisher who wasn’t happy at first, he noted they have been mostly welcomed. “I think mainly because we give readers a ‘teaser’ and make it very clear and obvious ‘hey click through to read the rest of the article.’ I don’t think a lot of news aggregation sites really embrace that,” he said. Kastner noted that with 4.2 million page views in less than 90 days and features that will benefit publishers and advertisers being launched in the next couple of weeks, TheDailyGlobe.com is doing better than he ever expected.

Other forays into aggregation sites and content include The Washington Post Company, which announced last month the purchase of iCurrent, a news aggregator “that works,” according to CNET News. Minnesota Public Radio launched a statewide aggregation site this year as well, called Minnesota Today. Meanwhile TBD.com, launching later this summer, will also aggregate news as part of its overall news model. And in a reversal, ProPublica recently announced that it was now easier than ever to “steal” stories from their site.

So what has changed? “News organizations are trying to build digital revenues, and trying out a variety of experiments,” said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst with the Poynter Institute. He noted that when aggregation was most reviled, the country was at the worst of the ad revenue collapse. And to some extent “people were looking to blame someone for all this,” he said. But now revenues aren’t falling quite as fast and some news organizations are seeing profits again, he noted. And although there is still reticence from media organizations since the aggregated summary of a story is often enough for readers, aggregation can provide a lot of traffic for some sites when readers click through.

“The media has moved away from the notion that their website represents all their own work and have started to turn their sites into something that can be a guide to what other papers are writing and signing up some of the other blogs in the area,” Edmonds said.

Although the future of the news is uncertain, Kastner believes that aggregation will be a big part of it, noting that he thinks “everyone will have basically the same content and that it will be the user experience that will be different across all of the news aggregators.” While this remains to be seen, it is certain that the media continues to embrace new methods and models, and aggregation has become a part of that.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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