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Categorising News Aggregator Services

The final speaker in this Future of Journalism 2017 session is Concha Edo, whose focus is on the impact of news aggregators (and especially those beyond the major services). Such services now play a crucial role in channelling audience attention to news sources; research here has largely focussed on the impact of the major services on news industry business models.

Aggregators employ a range of algorithms to connect news and its audiences, yet such algorithms are usually obscure and intransparent; most aggregators then offer the headlines and ledes of news stories, along with an indication of the sites from which they were sourced, and this potentially reduces the advertising revenue of news sources if it means that audiences are less likely to click through to the actually news site itself.

Further, this algorithmic selection of which news stories users see on aggregator platforms also constitutes a form of gatekeeping that supersedes the editorial gatekeeping practiced by the news sites themselves: the additional selection process that such aggregators impose might be based on user access metrics to existing stories, or on users' personal interests, rather than on conventional journalistic news values. In doing so, aggregators may actually reduce the value of their own services, if we assume that users are interested in a journalistic rather than purely metrics-based selection of the stories they should see.

There are a number of news aggregation models that implement such selection choices in different ways, and this study examined some 30 different aggregator platforms and apps; the present study examined them by using some 47 different categorisation criteria, as well as conducting interviews with aggregator staff.

Common to each of them is the sourcing of content from a wide range of sites and sources, and the categorisation into different themes and topics; business models vary between subscriptions, freemium offers, sponsorship, and advertising. 40% worked across a wide range of languages, while the rest were available only in English; only 23% employed journalists to support the content selection, while for most the selection is purely algorithmically driven. This is one of the key points for which news editors criticise these aggregator services, too.