A few weeks ago, TNR published an editorial about aggregation. Most of our peer publications are devoting significant space on their websites to aggregation these days, and we wanted to sound a cautionary note about the practice. Aggregating stories—especially stories on topics that people are likely to be searching for at that very moment—is by far the cheapest way for publications to drive traffic to their websites, which is why everyone is doing it. Our worry was that this aggregation arms race is causing publications to place too little emphasis on the discovery of new facts and the production of original ideas—and too much emphasis on simply summarizing the ideas of others.
We’re holding out hope that Google will find some way to change its algorithm in order to more clearly privilege the production of original journalism over aggregation. But until that happens, TNR, like everyone else, has to compete in the world of journalism according to the incentives that actually exist. And so, we’ve known for a while that we would have to find some way to get into the aggregation business. Our only rule for ourselves was that we wanted to do something that was different and, hopefully, valuable. We didn’t want to just do what everyone else was doing—that is, aggregate the latest headlines from The New York Times and CNN.
What we came up with is called The Study, and we’re excited to unveil it. Instead of aggregating news headlines, it’s going to aggregate academic papers from universities and think tanks—a genre of writing and thinking that has a lot to add to the world but that doesn’t get much attention from the media. We’re going to marry this academic writing to the day’s headlines, tying together what people are talking about in the world as a whole at any given moment with what various researchers and thinkers have discovered about these topics. Hopefully, if we do a good job, this project will inject some unexpected and valuable perspectives into the political debate. (And we encourage academics to help by sending us their studies—especially when they are connected to something that is taking place in the news—at email@example.com.)
Aggregation will remain only a tiny fraction of what we do at TNR. Our focus, in print and on the web, will always be on the enterprise we are most passionate about: producing original, thoughtful, beautifully crafted magazine journalism. Still, we hope The Study will prove to be a worthwhile addition to the website. We hope it becomes a place where intriguing but under-publicized research and arguments garner some attention they wouldn’t otherwise get. And we hope it’s an enjoyable read—a quirky alternative to the way aggregation is usually done.
(Click here to read The Study in full.)