What Aggregators Do: Rhetoric, Practice, and Evidentiary Cultures Inside Web-Era Journalism
Cite: “What Aggregators Do: Rhetoric, Practice, and Evidentiary Cultures Inside Web-Era Journalism.” Chapter in The New Architectures of Politics: Perceptions, People and Persuasion (James Katz and Dave Karpf, eds.). Currently under review with MIT Press
Abstract: This paper analyzes an increasingly valorized form of newswork– “serious, old fashioned,” “boots on the ground reporting”– through an exploration of its purported occupational opposite, news aggregation. The paper begins with a qualitative content analysis of the March 4, 2010 FCC workshop “The Future of Media and Information Needs of Communities: Serving the Public Interest in the Digital Era,” in which journalists and scholars, using public rhetoric, attempted to draw a sharp, clear boundary between original reporting and aggregation. In its second section the paper turns to an exploration of the actual hybridized practices of journalistic aggregation. Connecting these threads is an argument (drawing on research in the sociology of expertise, the sociology of occupations, and journalism studies) that knowledge claims must be examined both as pure, line drawing arguments and as messy hybrids in which material practices need to be constantly purified through this aforementioned rhetorical work. The paper finds that, beyond rhetorical attempts at differentiation, one source of the conflict between “aggregators” and “reporters” lies in different conceptions of the validity of digital evidence. I conclude by arguing that a deeper understanding of this disagreement requires research into both the material practices and material objects of 21st century newswork.