News Leadership 3.0

September 30, 2008

Re-inventing the gatekeeper

Aggregation, not aggravation:
Journalists can offer, vet and debunk links
as an important traditional role moves online

Saturday, I sat with a small group of longtime print and broadcast journalists whom I admire very much and listened to them complain about the difficulty they experience figuring out whether or not to believe some of what they find on the Web. The essence of the dilemma: No trusted gatekeeper, no clue.

I used to be one of the editors who helped decide what would go in the newspaper the next day and I am proud of the way we tried to evaluate, verify and otherwise make credible the information we published. So I think fondly of that role in that place and that time.

But I as I listened to my colleague’s anecdotes of bad stuff on the Web, I felt rising impatience.  In so many ways, traditional journalism’s inability to see the Web outside the prism of the past blinds us to its opportunities. That’s a road to nowhere, and it’s always difficult to see any good journalist choosing that path.

I suggested to my colleagues that journalists might be gatekeepers by using links to recommend good material and even to point out suspect information. I was thinking about how individual journalists, like my colleagues at the table, might start blogs and discuss stories they found authoritative and those they found wanting.  I don’t think I convinced anyone, in part because I didn’t have a ready example of how this practice might reach a lot of people.

So I was pleased to see a post from Scott Karp about’s new “Political Browser,” which epitomizes what I was attempting to describe on a larger scale. Karp writes:

“ has launched a new politics page called Political Browser, which features, wait for it… links to the most important and interesting political news around the web. That’s right, the Washington Post, one of the paragons of original political reporting, has dedicated a page to help you find the best of OTHER news organization’s political reporting.

“Crazy? Well, actually it makes perfect sense.

“I spoke with Eric Pianin, the Politics Editor for, who explained that The Washington Post sees an opportunity to extend their highly respected politic news brand to filtering the political web.

“And filtering is a BIG opportunity on the web.

“In fact, Political Browser was born of a determined effort by The Post to get into the news aggregation game. Eric told me that interest in news aggregation extends to the highest level of The Post’s senior leadership, including Katherine Weymouth—they have been “fascinated” by the success of aggregation sites like Drudge, Huffington Post, Hotline, and others.

“Eric acknowledged that is “late to the party,” but in fact the Political Browser puts the Post way out ahead of many other news sites—while many have begun to recognize the value of aggregation and links, most have been slow to act.”

Karp writes as a person who also has been impatient with the resistance of news organizations to link to material from other news organizations. Competitive news organizations—looking through that old prism—have mostly reasoned that linking will help the other guy, but not them. Google and Drudge (see Karp again) have shown otherwise, of course, and organizations such as the Post are starting to take note. In his Drudge post, Karp points out that linking outward pays back in increased traffic to the originating site. Great.

Even better: “Political Browser” promises to demonstrate one way journalists can reclaim a gatekeeper role on the Web. That matters in the often chaotic, loudest-first, truth-challenged world of today’s media.

Update: Here is an example of helpful aggregation amidst confusion: Matt Thompson provides links to explanations of key questions in the financial mess.



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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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