Curate this

In writing for this blog, I generally don't chase the news. It's an era of abundance for pundits, leaving little opportunity for insight on a tight calendar.

Yesterday, Jim Romanesko reported that a New Yorker.com piece, "Why smart people are stupid", repeated much of an article the writer, Jonah Lehrer, had published a year earlier in the Wall Street Journal. Lehrer's editor, Nicholas Thompson, responded in part by telling Romanesko, "I think the one good thing that will come out of it is making it very clear is that this is unacceptable.”

And with that, I chase the news.

"Curation" is one of the early and persistent themes on this blog. Thinking through curation led me to a variety of other places, including "Context first" and "The opportunity in abundance".

People value and reward curation. It's one of the reasons that periodicals persist in both physical and digital forms.

Yes, I can (and do) collect a lot of information on my own. But I value having publications like the Financial Times, the Economist and Harper's come to my door on a regular basis because someone has thought about what they contain in a way that I have not.

Jonah Lehrer is well-known for his past writing on his chosen topic. It probably played a significant role in the decision to hire him.

As Laura Hazard Owen points out, sustaining new, big and counterintuitive ideas can lead a writer to repeat past material. Asking someone to write about what they have already written about invites repetition.

In any event, I'm not necessarily looking for certification that everything I read is appearing in print or online for the first time. Sometimes the best application of an idea is shaped around a current event. Certain publications (like The Week) make no bones about the material having appeared elsewhere.

In subscribing, I look for insight. I trust that an editor has evaluated the articles and found that they add value, on their own and as part of a package.

Within a publication, a writer is responsible to the editor. The editor is responsible to the reader. If anything is "unacceptable" here, it's the absence of curation by the people whose job is curation.

Edited June 22 to add: Although some voices have questioned whether Lehrer's self-plaigirism is a big deal, I've yet to see anyone else question what the editors at Wired, the New Yorker and elsewhere were doing while Lehrer recycled material on their watch. That Wired is reviewing 300 of Lehrer's past blog posts feels less like editorial judgment and more like a witch hunt to me.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.