It's easy to see the downsides in such a skill set. If you're going fast, you make mistakes (which commenters graciously point out with vim and vigor). You do not independently verify everything you write about. You do not develop the same basic skillset as a reporter. Scoops are not your holy grail. Plus, because you are fundamentally in the distribution game, you get to know the icky quantified insides of web ecology and psychology a bit too well.
But what about the good stuff? Surely, the best of the aggregators out there are learning some fascinating things about how to be good online and all of them are training themselves into certain habits of thought. Our own Rebecca Greenfield mentioned this to me this morning when she read about Fareed Zakaria's liberal take on sourcing quotes in his book. As told to the Washington Post:
"As I write explicitly [in the book], this is not an academic work where everything has to be acknowledged and footnoted," his said. The book contains "hundreds" of comments and quotes that aren't attributed because doing so, in context, would "interrupt the flow for the reader," he said.
He compared his technique to other popular non-fiction authors. "Please look at other books in this genre and you will notice that I'm following standard practice," he said.
Let's put aside the assertion that people do not attribute quotes they did not hear with their own ears in any way in popular non-fiction books as a matter of debate (and annoyance to those of us who did labor at putting in hundreds of end notes).
"On the web, we're a lot of things, but you would never lift a quote and not provide a link or a source. It's just bizarre," Greenfield said to me. "Maybe it has to do with the idea that you would so obviously be caught, but it's also just how the job works."
An unsourced quote might pop up on Tumblr, but it would not happen with pro aggregators. Why? First, there are the ethical norms. Second, you'd get caught, by your commenters if no one else. But third -- and I'd argue most importantly, half the value the aggregator is providing is the quote and the other half is where it came from; a bunch of unsourced quotes would just not generate much interest or traffic. You think I'm kidding? Look at Gawker's top stories today. Every one of them (I clicked on a dozen) contains a source link and attribution. Same goes for The Wire.
Counterintuitively, we're training our aggregators to recognize the value in other people's work (and brands). We're telling them, "You're as good as the people you link to."
And that's the opposite of how print editors have traditionally thought. It's an enduringly great attribute of print magazines that they rigorously fact-check their writing. But references to other publications are regularly stripped out of text headed to publication whenever possible at every magazine I know of. And man, how many bloggers out there have written a great story only to see the Wall Street Journal (or the Times or Newsweek, etc) rip off the idea and execution without so much as a hat tip?* If that's your journalistic upbringing, of course you wouldn't worry about using an uncited quote here or there.