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From AJR,   June/July 2011  issue

The Romenesko Revolution   

He has had an enormous impact on media coverage. Wed. August 24, 2011


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Life without Romenesko. It's impossible to contemplate.

Luckily we won't have to.

Jim Romenesko, who essentially created the world of media news aggregation, announced his semi-retirement today from his influential and widely read blog on the Poynter Institute Web site. But he's hardly vanishing into the ether. He'll continue to post "casually" on poynter.org and soon will launch jimromenesko.com, "a blog about the media .. and other things I'm interested in." The new arrangement starts January 2.

The Romenesko revolution began in May 1999 when he launched mediagossip.com, a collection of links about the news business, as a hobby when he was reporting for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Later that year, then-Poynter President Jim Naughton and his Web site honcho, Bill Mitchell, were smart enough to snag Romenesko for the Poynter roster. Soon Poynter was the go-to site for media happenings.

The impact was immediate and immense. Suddenly media infractions that would have been known only in the market where they took place, if they were known at all, became national news, at least for the media mavens who rapidly became Romenesko addicts. And the imbroglios would often trigger lively and valuable national debate on the underlying issues.

And here's how quickly that happened: In her piece on the aggregation man in AJR's September 2000 issue, Lori Robertson wrote: "Romenesko's page, part of the Poynter Institute's Web site since last October, has changed the way news about the media is disseminated, creating an instant forum for the self-referential world of journalism. Suddenly articles in a regional daily or local alternative paper or city magazine have an immediate national audience."

Robertson's lead focused on an episode in which a newspaper editor, unhappy about a national magazine article on his publication, e-mailed his letter to the editor to Romenesko. He promptly posted it, leading other prominent journalists to weigh in. No longer did the unhappy story subject have to wait until the next issue of the offending news outlet came out and hope someone would read it. A monumental change had taken place.

Romenesko's influence was amplified by another development: His blog soon became a virtual magnet for memos written by news executives to their staffs, memos which the authors rarely had intended for such wide distribution.

While this certainly was a major step toward transparency, some news managers think it was a serious blow to efforts to communicate with their staffers without attracting a worldwide audience.

Romenesko's blog had a very distinct personality. (I use past tense here because its flavor has changed in recent months as Romenesko has done more reporting for his items and other Poynter staffers have taken to frequently posting material.) It was the antithesis of an algorithm-created blog. Frequent readers developed a strong sense of the issues and subjects that interest him and those that don't.

Romenesko often does not let the flavor of the original content he's linking to shape the item he posts. He has a gift for locating the most readable nugget in a long story, and that's often his lead rather than the thrust of the piece. That can be awfully entertaining, but it can also be wildly frustrating.

While he certainly posts more than the lead and the deck of the story, I generally feel that he avoids that great pitfall of aggregation: giving so much away that there's no need to click on the link.

There's no doubt that Romenesko has his critics. One prominent journalist I know refers to the blog as "journalism porn." Another feels it too often gives short shrift to the serious. Others feel that it simply reinforces the not necessarily healthy fascination that journalists typically have with themselves, their colleagues and their field.

But it's hard to deny that it has been an invaluable tool for anyone closely following this rapidly transforming field. And often a hell of a lot of fun.

When I mentioned on Facebook that Romensko's semi-retirement from Poynter represented "the end of Western civilization as we know it," he instantly commented, "It'll rise again with the launch of http://jimromenesko.com." Poynter will maintain what will soon be renamed "Romenesko+," featuring contributions from the man himself and other Poynter staffers as well as hiring a media reporter. And I've become a big fan of Mediagazer, which Megan McCarthy and her pet algorithm have turned into an essential source of media news.

So we're in no danger of a media blackout on the media anytime soon.

Meanwhile, props to Romenesko for a major, enduring achievement.