Trevor Butterworth at The Awl looks into the firing of Elizabeth Flock, a writer at the Washington Post’s blogPOST news aggregator. He’s sympathetic to her, and quietly vicious to pageview-seeking aggregation machines run by companies that actually do real journalism.
The whole operation functions smoothly as long as the blogger-journalist doesn’t make a mistake, because a mistake draws attention to the inherent cheapness of the product and the ethical dubiety of the entire process. You see, the Post—or any legacy news organization turned aggregator—wants to have its cake and other people’s cake too, and to do so without damaging its brand as a purveyor of original cake.
You can see the problem: the more pageviews you seek, the more the work turns to drudgery; but the more it becomes drudgery, the more exacting it becomes to protect the integrity of the aggregation process, and, with it, the Post's brand. […]
Call me a sentimental old English major, but if you read through Ms. Flock’s work you can practically feel this young journalist’s desperation to write something—anything—that wasn’t first written, hours or minutes earlier, by someone else.
I don’t have to do this sort of thing full-time – thank the heavens – but the few times when I do have to regurgitate some PR babble for a little blog post at work, it is drudgery. It’s a challenge to rephrase things in a way that isn’t outright plagiarism that also masks your contempt for the task. You start to understand why many people just copy-paste the press releases and call it “news”: it’s more honest, in its own way.