Ripped Off News? Or Spreading The News?

from the what's-the-problem-here dept

It appears that some (certainly not all) in the mainstream press still seems to have problems understanding the value of getting people to talk about what they reported on. They seem to come at this viewpoint from the old line of thinking that a reporter reported on the story and that was it. The story was done. But that's not the way the news works. A news story is simply a part of the conversation. It may be a starting point in a bigger effort -- which is why it's important for so many people today to be able to spread and share the news with others. Yet, if you come at things from a viewpoint of the newspaper article being a final and definitive word, then suddenly such sharing and spreading is viewed as "theft" or being "ripped off" and the person promoting and discussing and sharing your work is suddenly a parasite.

Over the weekend, just such a situation cropped up, when Ian Shapira, a writer for the Washington Post wrote about how he felt when the blog Gawker wrote about one of his articles. At first, he was thrilled. It was validation. In fact, he called it "one of journalism's biggest coups." He should have stopped there, because he was right.

But after excitedly telling his editor about it, his editor claimed that Ian was "ripped off" by Gawker... and Ian appears to have come around to that view. But was he really? Not at all. The Gawker post links to the Washington Post three separate times. And, even worse, almost all of the article they quoted wasn't actually Shapira's writing at all, but quotes from the person he was profiling -- someone Shapira most certainly did not pay. As we recently discussed, newspaper reporters regularly get free quotes and free insight and free advice from various experts, that they get to use in their articles. And now suddenly it's "stealing" for someone else to quote the same people (with a link -- or three) back to the story? Please.

At some point, more people will come around to realizing that when others are discussing the stories you helped bring forth and linking back to you, it's time to join in the conversation -- not scream and whine about others stealing. That just makes it less likely anyone will ever write about one of your stories again.

This isn't even an issue about fair use, as some are suggesting. It's an issue about common sense. If you have a story, you'd better want it to spread, and what better way to get it to spread than to get more people talking about it wherever they want to talk about it. You can't keep all the discussion at your site, nor should you want to. Doing so only guarantees no one cares about what you have to write.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Neal from iPhoneUserNews.com, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 4:36am

    One fair way to deal with this, would be for newspapers to print hyperlinks to anything off the web that they quote in the articles.

    Although they seem to have conveniently not come up with a way of doing this! Seriously though, if they really wanted to, they could come up with a short url system for referencing online articles.

     

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  2.  
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    Speaker, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 4:56am

    Thomas Jefferson wrote that "I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it." You can certainly appreciate the sentiment. There seems little in reporting today other than the Hearst model of yellow journalism. Common sense was lost long ago in the name of revenue.

     

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    PassinThru (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 5:18am

    If they got what they want

    Imagine a world where the news folks got their wish. No one could link to their story. No other news organization could refer to the story. People couldn't even talk about what they read. The only way to find out about the story would be to go to their site and read it.

    If you didn't already subscribe, how would you know to go there? Would it even really be news if only one site could talk about it?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 5:38am

    Re: If they got what they want

    Conversely, if all the media were just quoting each other, who would actually write the news?

     

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  5.  
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    Hayden Frost, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 5:53am

    Be Careful What You Wish For

    I'm generally against the newspapers in the hot news debate, but Gawker is in the wrong on this one.

    This is not the case of one of those 4 sentence AP articles where one is the title as a full sentence and another is "John Doe could not be reached for comment before press time." And it's also not a case where the established media repackaged a press release or agency/court filing. It took 2 days to investigate and package this info for distribution, and 30-60 min for Gawker to repackage it.

    On top of that, the Gawker article includes pretty much all the meat of Wapo's investigation, and after reading it, there's no need to click through (this guy does the math). It's one thing to republish an rss title+summary (what part of really simple syndication do they not understand), but Gawker basically took all the important stuff.

    And while it's likely that this isn't copyright infringement and hot news is likely no longer good law, this is the exact ammo that the established media will take to Congress, which will then hand over hot news on a silver platter.

     

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  6.  
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    Scott, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 5:55am

    I think you are missing the point

    "And, even worse, almost all of the article they quoted wasn't actually Shapira's writing at all, but quotes from the person he was profiling -- someone Shapira most certainly did not pay"

    Yes, the original reporter didn't actually pay for the quotes, but if you read the story, he spent hours in the interview and editing process, something for which a salary was paid to him. Then Gawker just copies it all in to their own article, with no work needed. Would Gawker be willing to spend the hours necessary to get all those quotes from the interview participant? No. But hey, its just part of the conversation man... roll with it.

    There is a line between quoting or summarizing another's article, and wholesale rewriting it via copy/paste.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 6:41am

    "Conversely, if all the media were just quoting each other, who would actually write the news?"

    Unfortunately, this seems to be a fairly common model in todays media saturated world. Used to be "journalists" required multiple sources before they would report on something. Today, if I post something and three different sites link to my post, that qualifies as multiple sources. This type of grapevine journalism has many flaws. It is how a story about an accident on the Terry Bradshaw Passway (in Shreveport, Louisiana) turns into an ESPN breaking news post about Terry Bradshaw passing away.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 7:06am

    Since when do news organizations have a monopoly and copyright on what happens to OTHERS?

    So what... I get into an accident and I can't talk about it because a reporter happened to be there and now it is... NEWS?

    My house gets robbed and I can't blog about it because (well, one my computer was stolen) but secondly, I can't blog about it because it was reported on and is now NEWS?

    The newspapers forget that they don't MAKE news... news HAPPENS... and they HAPPEN to be there, or they get someone there... they should never have a monopoly on things that happen.

    NEWS is a four-letter word now... may the newspapers burn...

     

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  9.  
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    Rob, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 7:22am

    Re:

    @ Scott -- "Yes, the original reporter didn't actually pay for the quotes, but if you read the story, he spent hours in the interview and editing process, something for which a salary was paid to him."

    Yes, and the experts he was interviewing spent years at school studying(which was an out of pocket expense for them), as well as (presumably) many years of work in the field (which they are receiving salary for) to gather the knowledge that they are sharing for free with this reporter. The REPORTER is the one who deserves the credit for this knowledge? Because he spent hours interviewing people and assembling information, and cost the newspaper maybe hundreds of dollars (as opposed to the experts, who spent YEARS and have cost millions of dollars)? I hope that you can see how badly your logic fails here.

     

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    DanOfSoCal, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 7:22am

    Where does news come from anyway?

    News happens all around us, all the time. It is the astute reporter that captures it and writes about it. The rest of us pays him or her for this service. In a nutshell, that's how the news business works. If you take the story and republish it, then you're stealing. Covering yourself simply by providing links to the original source is a weak argument.

    Regarding your comment, ". . . almost all of the article they [reporters] quoted wasn't actually Shapira's writing at all, but quotes from the person he was profiling -- someone Shapira most certainly did not pay. As we recently discussed, newspaper reporters regularly get free quotes and free insight and free advice from various experts, that they get to use in their articles. And now suddenly it's 'stealing' for someone else to quote the same people (with a link -- or three) back to the story? Please." Dude, just because a reporter did not pay his source doesn't give you a free ride to the information. Hey, if reporters did have to pay their sources, then you would argue that the quote wasn't unbiased. Give me a break!

    Free stuff is charged for all the time. Think about the processor chips you use on your PC - made from sand for which nobody was paid. Similarly, petroleum is pumped out of the ground for free. It is the labor that adds value to everything you use. And it is the labor that should be paid for.

    Simply putting links in a lifted article is not sufficient when the entire contents of the article is divulged. When your readers don't feel compelled to link back to the article being commented upon ('cause you gave them the entire scoop), then you've stolen something.

    Ironically, I think you handled this article pretty well. You provided a link back to the source, and you gave me a compelling reason to link back to it. :-)

     

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    Ryan, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 7:55am


    News happens all around us, all the time. It is the astute reporter that captures it and writes about it. The rest of us pays him or her for this service. In a nutshell, that's how the news business works. If you take the story and republish it, then you're stealing. Covering yourself simply by providing links to the original source is a weak argument.


    Actually, it is anybody with an audience that wants to take the time to reference it. In the "good 'ol days" if a newspaper broke a story, all the others would jump on it and begin reporting the same facts the original did. They still do, actually. In this case, the website actually links back to the original article, which is more than physical newspapers ever did. And misconstruing the actions here as "covering" is a weak argument.

    Dude, just because a reporter did not pay his source doesn't give you a free ride to the information. Hey, if reporters did have to pay their sources, then you would argue that the quote wasn't unbiased. Give me a break!

    Uhh...we already have a free ride to information. Facts are facts. A quote exists because a source chose to say it; it was not created by a reporter.

    Simply putting links in a lifted article is not sufficient when the entire contents of the article is divulged. When your readers don't feel compelled to link back to the article being commented upon ('cause you gave them the entire scoop), then you've stolen something.

    It's a damn good thing you're here to tell us these things so we can know exactly what all is stealing. Is it stealing if I tell a friend in person about an article, after which he has no desire to read it? Is it stealing if somebody else who heard the quote personally emails it to everybody, thus precluding any desire to read the Post? I have so many questions about stealing, I would be happy if you could pull more arbitrary definitions out of your ass to share with us all.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 8:30am

    Re:

    i don't think you understand. there are 3 general positions people are taking here.

    1) the free web guys who want to be able to quote 25% or more of a 1,000 word article, or reword someone else's article without even linking back
    2) the middle guys who think it's okay to quote without divulging the details/scoop (including aggregating/filtering rss leads), or alternatively, you can write your own entire story from your own sources, regardless of who else has written about it
    3) MSM nuts who think that once they write a story on X, no one should be allowed to write a story on X for a few days at least, regardless of independent investigation -- and if you want to quote more than 4 words, regardless of whether those words are clearly in the public domain, you have to pay them.

    i think most of us are advocating for the middle position. we're not claiming anyone has ownership of facts. if gawker had called up the person on their own, then there would be nothing wrong. but what gawker did was basically gank wapo's investigation.

    likewise, if your house was robbed and the news reported on it, there's nothing wrong with you writing about your house being robbed. the "wrong" part happens when you decide that instead of writing up your own story, you basically mass blockquote from the news article. if you want quotes from the police chief, then go ask the police chief yourself, or find his press release or the arrest form. it's the notion that if these news sites shut down or put up a paywall tomorrow, would gawker's article still exist? no, it wouldn't.

    us guys in the middle don't think the debate should be around merely whether you profited off of someone else's work. if you add value to someone else's work, you're more than welcome profit. the problem is that reprinting the meat of the entire investigation and adding a comment section is not value adding -- it's detracting from value to the guys who did the actual work.

    there's a certain line, and gawker has crossed it.

     

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  13.  
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    Rob, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:00am

    "likewise, if your house was robbed and the news reported on it, there's nothing wrong with you writing about your house being robbed. the "wrong" part happens when you decide that instead of writing up your own story, you basically mass blockquote from the news article. if you want quotes from the police chief, then go ask the police chief yourself, or find his press release or the arrest form."

    Sorry, but this is absurd. Knowledge is cumulative. Where do you think science would be if every new generation of scientists had to keep rediscovering the same things over and over again? We would never move forward as a species. When one person interviews the police chief, I can't see why others can't use the same quote, and then maybe spend the time interviewing, say, one of the responding officers instead. This way, we get a fresh perspective instead of rehashing the same ground, as well as being kept up to speed with previous developments. That is how knowledge and information works, it is not something that can be owned or locked down. If this were the case we would still live in caves.

     

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  14.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 9:09am

    Re: Re: If they got what they want

    If it happened today, television news, since they are currently 100% ad-supported, and 0% fee-based for television or web viewers.

    So, we'd have a television news sourced system. I get 5 different news programs beamed over the air for free to my television several times a day, and each channel provides its news on-line for free, frequently with video clips of the aired news story. All that news is already paid for by the time it gets to me, they never have wanted money from anyone else, because they've already been compensated by their advertisers.

    Additionally, local bloggers who first-hand witness news in progress would be another point of news creation. A passerby with a camera phone captures the event, and then the blogosphere spreads the news and analyzes it, while also conducting investigations into validity and background information on the incident. Investigative journalism would happen in the public, in real-time, by real people. And would build upon other people's efforts in a community developed news story.

     

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  15.  
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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:08am

    Why do we want news?

    I think the key question is why do we want news? What is the purpose of news in a democratic society? The purpose of news in a democratic society is so that we can take action by writing to reps, voting for one guy or another, protesting etc... All of that depends upon us analyzing that news. And as it turns out, we do not all have the time to analyze every event and make a decision on our own. Neither can we just delegate that important function to just a few newspapers. (Can we imagine if we had to depend upon them for scientific news...) That's where bloggers can make a real difference. They can bring in a new perspective and help make more people aware of the facts. They make the news MORE USEFUL. We need them to stay and comment on the news and propagate it. If newspapers don't like that, they are missing the whole point of their existence and probably should vanish in a puff of paradox.

     

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  16.  
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    DanOfSoCal, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 10:57am

    Re:

    You're right. Nobody owns the facts, and if, as you say, someone personally hears the quote and mails it to the world, then that's not stealing. When newspapers quote from each other, they give credit that is in accordance with journalistic standards.

    Regarding a "free ride to information," don't believe it. Information only makes it to your computer screen because someone put effort into gathering the facts. Maybe you don't feel like you paid for it, but somebody did.

    Regarding your reference of arbitrary definitions out of my ass - dude - don't make this personal. I'm just expressing my opinion, and I'm not, as you say, pulling definitions out of my ass.

     

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  17.  
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    DanOfSoCal, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 11:37am

    Re: Why do we want news?

    I mostly agree; however, if someone doesn't have time to read the news, then he or she probably doesn't have time to read the blogs either. In any case, I agree that blogs add a lot to the news. They give personal perspectives and inspire people to read more news. I'm sure newspapers would love more bloggers to comment, as it would drive more people to read the original stories. They just don't want the bloggers to steal.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Where does news come from anyway?

    "If you take the story and republish it, then you're stealing."

    That's not stealing. It might be unethical, but it's not stealing. The rest of your comment makes a good point.

     

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  19.  
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    Nona, Aug 3rd, 2009 @ 7:03pm

    Re:

    You ask, "Is it stealing if I tell a friend in person about an article, after which he has no desire to read it?"

    No, that's not stealing, because you're having a private conversation. The problem is, that's not what Gawker did.

    To use your talking-with-a-friend analogy, what Gawker did was akin to filling an auditorium with 6000 of your friends, reading to the audience the best parts of the article -- without adding any analysis or further insight into the matter -- and, here's the biggest issue, placing billboards in the room and charging advertisers for ad space.

    So the problem here is the profiting from someone's work unfairly. Gawker is a business, and its ultimate goal is not to promote a conversation -- it's to generate profit. Nothing wrong with that goal itself. In fact, most of Gawker's posts add some sort of commentary or analysis to the subject at hand. In this case, though, they didn't add anything; all they did was summarize the reporter's story, so here I see a problem.

     

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  20.  
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    David EB, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 3:56am

    Copyright and Advertising Revenue

    In the original article were points that have not been mentioned. (1) In the early 1900's AP sued a rival news service who was repackaging and reselling AP's stories. AP won and copyright law recognized the right for news organizations to own and resell their products. In 1976, the Ford DoJ convinced Congress to drop that exemption during an overhaul of copyright law *because* it would only contribute to the newspapers' monopoly position. [Ed. Which they don't have anymore.] There is an initiative to restore that provision of copyright law. (2) The Washington Post's revenues have been falling while Gawker reported a 45% increase in the last quarter (if memory serves). Payment is only fair. Gawker's owner said this particular article had gone farther in incorporating the original material than was usual. He is also not opposed to payment, but believes sometimes Gawker would get paid for their stories. (3) Gawker contributers (contract workers, not employees with benefits) had regularly gawked for a few years, then gone on to jobs with the likes of New York magazine. Now, that career path is gone and they only aim as high as contract-worker-at-Gawker. In other words, Gawker is no longer an entry point to traditional journalism....

     

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  21.  
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    WTT, Aug 5th, 2009 @ 11:05am

    is it stealing....

    ...if Time reprints say, 95%, of an article from Newsweek with attribution but without permission or compensation? They are certainly adding to that reporter's circulation.

     

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