Because The Mainstream Press Never Copies Stories From Bloggers Without Credit...

from the parasites? dept

We've been hearing all sorts of stories recently about how aggregators and blog sites are apparently "parasites" on "real" newspaper reporting. For example, the CEO of News Limited (a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.) just went on a nice little rant against bloggers, claiming that blogs are "barely discernible from massive ignorance." In fact, the idea that blogs are somehow "parasitic" to "real journalism" has been around for years.

Because of this, we're suddenly seeing a revival of the nearly dormant concept of a "hot news" protection, that would forbid other publications from "profiting" from a news source that has a hot scoop. We're seeing proposals to ban even paraphrasing the news from a source that breaks it or making profits from a story broken by someone else.

So, surely, a mainstream newspaper would never "parasite" a story from a blog without giving credit, right? We've already joked that newspapers (by their own definition) are simply parasites of the people who actually make the news they cover, but newspapers have a long history of getting their stories from other publications and rarely given credit.

To be clear: beyond common courtesy, I don't think there's anything wrong with this, and I'm calling out the following example not because I think the LA Times did something wrong. I just find it amusing that at a time when so many insist that it's the ugly mass of "bloggers" who "parasite" stories from the professional reporters, that we see the opposite. Last week, I believe I was the first publication to write about Yahoo, Microsoft and RealNetworks getting sued by MCS Music over failure to license composition rights on a bunch of songs those companies offered via their music services. That story was sent to me by Eric Goldman -- who I believe sent it to some others as well. A few other online only publications wrote about the story and credited my post, which was nice.

And then, the LA Times wrote about it, calling it an important lawsuit. Now, there are many different places where the LA Times and its reporter Jon Healey could have found that story. Others may have sent it to Healey. He may have been watching the legal filings himself. Eric Goldman (who sent it to me) could have sent it to him as well. But... what's interesting is that in describing the case, Healey links to the version of the filing that I, personally, uploaded to document hosting site Scribd for the purpose of including it in the Techdirt post. That suggests, pretty strongly (and I'm willing to find out otherwise) that Healey found out about the lawsuit on Techdirt (I know that Healey has read the site in the past, though that doesn't mean he still reads it).

Now -- again, since this will be misinterpreted -- I have no problem whatsoever if Healey did find out about it on Techdirt and if he then wrote about it and decided not to link to Techdirt as credit for where he found it. I'm not complaining about it. It's a neighborly thing to do, but certainly not a big deal in the long run. I just found the fact that this appears to be what happened rather amusing, given the claims of so many that it's the blogs who "parasite" the pros, when it appears that the opposite happens sometimes too. If some of these proposals that are floating around ever got anywhere, I could argue that the LA Times was unfairly profiting off of my "scoop." That would, of course, be ridiculous, but that's the sort of world we'll live in if those who are trying to jump on the "hot news" bandwagon get their way.

And that is the important point. News is news. Facts are facts. No one owns either. A lawsuit is just a lawsuit and if anyone wants to write about it however they want to write about it, they should be able to do so. To claim that whoever wrote about it first somehow gets to "own" the story or reserve all the "profits" from it -- whether it's by a newspaper, a new media publication or some individual -- is simply pointless.

And, the newspaper folks who are pushing for such rules might want to remember that it's just as likely to come back and bite them if such laws were passed.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Weird Harold's former #5 fan, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 3:15pm

    You've already sent the check to MCS Music for creating the news so you could report it, right? ;)

     

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  2.  
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    tack, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 4:15pm

    Re:

    Reading comprehension FTW!!

     

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  3.  
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    RD, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    Cue...

    Cue the Reading Comprehensiontards who will misinterpret what you said and try to make straw-men arguments and put words in your mouth that you didnt say.

     

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  4.  
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    Hayden Frost, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 4:31pm

    lexis/westlaw/justia/tth

    When someone files a federal lawsuit, the filings are scanned into pacer. Often, a copy will end up on lexis/westlaw/justia/scribd/tth or any of the legal/agency aggregators on the same day if not within a few days. On all of these except justia/scribd, you can set up keyword notifications. There should never be a legally protectable right in "breaking" a story when it covers an agency filing, court filing, or press release, odds are, the federal government "broke" the story... not any of the establishment media.

     

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  5.  
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    robin, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 5:32pm

    tempest

    tempest in a teapot as mike rightfully acknowledges.

    what i found really interesting was the quotes by the CEO!! of a multi-national corporation (as mike linked above):

    "We from this day own our own material and are going to go about getting it to the masses through our own sources without going through businesses like Google."

    to me, one could cut his contempt for his potential customers (that's you and me folks: the masses) with a knife. as well as his sense of entitlement: entitlement to his years-ago monopoly audience and entitlement to what little money is left in my wallet.

    show of hands 'round here: who's planning to pay for this revolutionary new news corp site? yeah, i thought so :->

    also and finally, does this mean this visionary leader has learned how to use a robots.txt? yeah, i thought so.

     

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  6.  
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    Doctor Strange, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 5:33pm

    PODUNK, IOWA (AP) - Broken clocks discovered to be right twice per day.

     

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  7.  
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    CleverName, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 6:18pm

    Do as I say, not as I do.

     

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  8.  
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    Travis Miller (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 8:17pm

    Wouldn't "hot news" protection kill newspapers? Isn't it almost guaranteed that some online source would break any significant news before it gets printed in a newspaper?

    How could they think this is a good idea?

     

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  9.  
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    Jon Healey, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 9:24pm

    Because bloggers never write about someone...

    ... without trying to interview them, right?

    Mike, why didn't you just ask me instead of speculating at length about my sources? Or would that be too old school? :-)

    I agree with you on the "hot news" argument. You've picked a lousy illustration of that point, however. The whole "hot news" gambit is aimed at protecting breaking news reporting, as the Supreme Court did a century or so ago. My post, done day or two after the lawsuit was filed, was a wrap-up of a week's worth of copyright-related news. It was analysis - I'm an editorial writer, after all, not a hard news guy - and that's never been threatened by the "hot news" doctrine.

    Beyond that, how do you know that I've read TechDirt in the past? Because (wait for it)... I've credited you. In this case, the link to the Scribd file came from a source who's an entertainment lawyer. I hadn't seen your piece on it and didn't see any attribution, so I didn't provide anything but a link to the Scribd file itself. I went back there just now, scrolled down below the complaint and saw your name at the bottom, as well as the license terms that limit it to non-commercial use. Forgive me, my bad -- I should have found that before, but I'm not a Scribd user. I do honor license terms, however, so I've taken the link down.

    When I was on the news side, it irritated me to no end when folks would take my reporting without attributing it. The culprit was typically other mainstream news outlets, by the way, not bloggers. But I also came to realize that you can't treat news like patents. It's unrealistic to expect reporters to track down the original source of a news story, just as it would be harmful to bar people from reporting breaking news that someone else got to first. Instead, we should simply demand (as consumers of news) that people reveal if they learned about something from another publication, and to identify what that publication was. At the very least, journalists should provide a link if they can't bring themselves to spell it out in the text. That's what I do.

    I also try to talk to people before I write about them, but again, maybe that's just a mainstream media thing.

     

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  10.  
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    Kevin Carson, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 9:31pm

    Tu quoque

    Newspapers are parasitic on real journalism. The actual content of newspapers is generated by shoeleather reporters. The editor and desk jockeys in the office are just an older version of news aggregators, cutting and pasting and shuffling around the content generated by reporters.

    Well, online news aggregators and bloggers MAKE BETTER USE of the content generated by reporters. They are, in fact, new and BETTER newspapers. The bulk of original content generation for both newspapers and blogs (aside, of course, from the 40% or so of "professional" journalism's content that's generated by corporate PR departments and government spokesmen, or by press conference stenography) is still done by the army of traditional reporters working the beat. And they're a magnificent army. But as Lincoln said to McClellan, if you're not going to use that army, may I borrow it?

    Online news aggregators are not bound by the Lippman model of "professional objectivity," which amounts to simply reporting what "both sides" say without comment. They actually have independent recourse to the factual realm, and dare to juxtapose the material in one link with material in another link that shows the politician's or flack's public statement to be a LIE. In other words, they're a return to the model of the nineteenth century party press: the truth is approximated, not by a pose of credulity in regurgitating official sources without comment, but through the dialectical process. The blogger attempts to report the actual truth as it perceives it, using both evidence and reason, and is then ruthlessly cross-examined by other bloggers doing the same.
    The truth emerges from an adversarial process.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:54pm

    Re: Because bloggers never write about someone...

    I also try to talk to people before I write about them, but again, maybe that's just a mainstream media thing.

    Heh, panties in a bunch much? How's that talking to Michael Jackson going nowadays? I guess mainstream media is heavily invested in afterlife guides.

     

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  12.  
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    Tristin (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:54pm

    Re: Tu quoque

    That reminds me of the slogan of the Communist Party back in the days of the USSR. It went something like, "Truth through debate."

    I don't know what that has to do with the topic, I just always liked the saying and thought I would blurt out my thoughts about it here. It's just a damn shame the Communists defiled the idea by completely undermining the public voice and manipulating public information. Not entirely unlike many of the dying industries of today. I'm just saying.

    I hope the burgeoning era of public discourse maintains independence from the chains of powerful minorities.

     

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  13.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 7th, 2009 @ 10:59pm

    Re: Because bloggers never write about someone...

    Mike, why didn't you just ask me instead of speculating at length about my sources? Or would that be too old school? :-)

    Because I figured you'd respond in the comments and then everyone would learn about it together. Much better than a private conversation.

    Beyond that, how do you know that I've read TechDirt in the past? Because (wait for it)... I've credited you. In this case, the link to the Scribd file came from a source who's an entertainment lawyer. I hadn't seen your piece on it and didn't see any attribution, so I didn't provide anything but a link to the Scribd file itself. I went back there just now, scrolled down below the complaint and saw your name at the bottom, as well as the license terms that limit it to non-commercial use. Forgive me, my bad -- I should have found that before, but I'm not a Scribd user. I do honor license terms, however, so I've taken the link down.

    The document itself is a public court filing and you certainly have every right to link to it. As I tried to make clear in the post, I'm not upset. I think it's great that you linked to it. I just found it amusing.

    When I was on the news side, it irritated me to no end when folks would take my reporting without attributing it. The culprit was typically other mainstream news outlets, by the way, not bloggers. But I also came to realize that you can't treat news like patents. It's unrealistic to expect reporters to track down the original source of a news story, just as it would be harmful to bar people from reporting breaking news that someone else got to first.

    Yup, we're in total agreement. Again -- as I tried to make clear -- I don't think you did anything wrong. I even said there was a good chance someone else had sent the story to you. That, in fact, was part of the very point I was making.

    Who first "scooped" the story is pretty meaningless. News is news.

    I also try to talk to people before I write about them, but again, maybe that's just a mainstream media thing.

    Sure. As I've said here repeatedly as well, I'm not a reporter or a journalist. I regard a blog post as a conversation, and so I'll post what I have and expect the conversation to unfold in the comments -- which is exactly what's happened.

    Again, I didn't single you out because I thought you did anything wrong, but because it illustrated a good point for discussion.

     

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  14.  
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    Jay Fude (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 7:16am

    Holy Cow!

    Techdirt is a blog? I thought it was a news site! Crap, that means for all this time I have been following a blog and not a "serious" news site.

    Really, just keep up the good work, the Dirt is on my iGoogle for a reason, right next to ARS, just good reporting and good insight into the virtual world that I inhabit.

     

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  15.  
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    cryptozoologist (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 7:34am

    parasite as a verb.....

    i can't quite put my finger on why it sounds awkward to me to use 'parasite' as a verb. i poked around on at thesaurus.com and found 'leech' to be a pretty good verb to substitute. perhaps english could adopt a foreign word to fill this niche. any suggestions?

     

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  16.  
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    brent (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 8:26am

    Re: Because bloggers never write about someone...

    I applaud Mr. Healey for speaking up here on the comments about this and letting the conversation unfold. It takes some balls to start firing back on the internet for all the masses to take shots at him. Especially when some of the folks here can really get mean. Mad props to Jon for responding.

     

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  17.  
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    Karl, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 12:13pm

    "It's unrealistic to expect reporters to track down the original source of a news story."

    Yeah, I've heard that before. I don't think it is, and frankly comes naturally if you're watching your particular news beat. As somebody who spends ten to twelve hours a day online studying telecom issues, I generally can see who's riffing off of who just by looking quickly at news aggregation and Google News/Blogs.

    I think certain outlets just don't bother because you get more hits pretending to be an originating source (not suggesting that was done here).

     

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  18.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:08pm

    Re: Because bloggers never write about someone...

    Jon. When I read this blog post, I didn't find it indicted you in any way. He just used your story to show how blogs are often sources for mainstream media, just as the opposite is often true. And that's OK. He said it was OK.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Because bloggers never write about someone...

    > I went back there just now, scrolled down below the complaint and saw your name at the bottom, as well as the license terms that limit it to non-commercial use. Forgive me, my bad -- I should have found that before

    Yay! So can we sue you now? Or is suing people for ignoring the license terms the privilege of newspapers?

    (disclaimer: yes I know it's a public domain court document... but what if it wasn't? The guy clearly admits of reading the license terms postfactum... tsk tsk tsk.)

     

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