Wrapports, the investment group that owns the Sun-Times, created Aggrego four years ago to produce content for its suburban papers. Those papers were sold and Aggrego shifted to producing content for the Sun-Times Network of local news sites.
That network has never amounted to much, but now Aggrego has yet another role: embedding content it has either created or aggregated on the websites of other papers—such as those of the Tribune Publishing chain (the metro dailies it owns, and those suburban papers it bought from Wrapports) and the McClatchy chain. A pilot program with Tribune has been going on for the past few months, and according to Wrapports has been successful enough to expand.
Publishers touting digital initiatives such as this one like to speak a patois that asserts command of the realm—such as click-through rates, optimization, and monetization (which is always promising but never sufficient). But it might be helpful to compare Aggrego to, say, a Hollywood gossip columnist of yore—let’s say Louella Parsons. She did some original reporting, some aggregating (back in the day when it was called lifting), and some speculating, and produced a column that clattered into clients’ newsrooms each day via Teletype.
In her coverage of the Aggrego deal, Crains‘s Lynne Marek appropriately raises an eyebrow. “So much for bolstering the separation of Tribune Publishing and rival Chicago Sun-Times parent Wrapports,” Marek’s story begins, noting that Michael Ferro, who owns most of Wrapports (and fathered Aggrego), now controls Tribune Publishing, though he says he gave all his Sun-Times stock to a charitable trust. For what it’s worth, the deal was in the works before Ferro crossed the street.
To explain the business climate that drives such an arrangement, a Wrapports source directed me to a recent article on digiday.com headlined “In battle with Google and Facebook, more publishers join forces.”
The premise is simple: only the huge survive.
“The common threats facing the industry have made partnering up with competitors an easier sell,” said reporter Ricardo Bilton. “The big platforms have attracted big ad dollars because they’ve created compelling products that billions of people use on a daily basis. For the average publisher with a modest tech team, this is another front on which it’s impossible to compete—at least not alone.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly noted that Aggrego was founded three years ago. It was founded four years ago, and the story has been corrected accordingly.