Mainstream Newspapers 'Rip Off' Blogs Too, You Know…

from the it's-not-just-one-way... dept

Last month, we wrote about a new study that basically showed that independent bloggers and the mainstream press had a rather nice symbiotic relationship, with different stories flowing back and forth across the two. Oddly, the NY Times misinterpreted the study to claim that it showed that bloggers were “behind” the mainstream press on stories, but the details showed a very different story. It’s no surprise that a mainstream publication would portray the study this way, but it makes it even more amusing when that same publication is then caught using a story from a blog as well, without doing any additional reporting.

Now, before we get into the details, I want to be absolutely clear: I don’t think there is anything wrong with this at all. You can’t (and shouldn’t be able to) copyright facts, and having multiple versions of a story written up from multiple perspectives is a good thing in my book. But with some, such as the Marburgers, insisting that its these independent sites acting as “parasites” and you have Ian Shapira and his editors at the Washington Post complaining about Gawker supposedly “ripping off” one of Shapira’s articles, it’s worth noting that this happens all the time in the other direction as well.

Eric Goldman alerts us to a blog post by writer/blogger Kashmir Hill, where she talks about how the NY Times did the exact same thing that Shapira accuses Gawker of doing to a blog post she wrote for the blog AboveTheLaw. The story is actually one that we blogged about as well (and linked to the AboveTheLaw version, along with two other blogs that led us to the original story), concerning a professor who gave his class an assignment to see what sort of private info they could find online about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (following Scalia’s claim that there was no need to protect privacy online).

It was an interesting story that got plenty of attention, and involved real reporting by Hill, including talking to both the professor and actually getting a quote from Scalia via the Supreme Court. From there, a bunch of mainstream sources, starting with ABC News, but also including the NY Times wrote up their own versions of the story. They did no real additional reporting. They did cite AboveTheLaw as the source, but also used quotes directly from Hill’s piece.

Again, this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do — but according to Shapira, this is the NY Times “ripping off” Hill and according to the Marburgers, this is the NYTimes acting as a “parasite.” Does it occur to either of them that this is just part of how news is written about these days? Stories originate in all sorts of places, and then go through a variety of different sources.

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Comments on “Mainstream Newspapers 'Rip Off' Blogs Too, You Know…”

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Leviathant (profile) says:

Don't even get me started.

The other day, a friend of mine noted how weird it was to see articles in newspapers all around the world lifting words he crafted for the wikipedia entry on Nine Inch Nails, almost never citing their source.

And don’t get me started on the likes of MTV and radio stations taking material that can only have been sourced from my site without ever so much as a mention of any concept of where it came from, never mind a shout-out or a link. This despite my own strident effort to make sure we cite the sources on our news page, and in particular, mention the specific author (not just the publication) when possible.

I pretty much got over being pissed off about that years ago, but I definitely took notice when Rolling Stone started to not only cite us but link back to us when they used material we had researched and written up.

Longfellowx (profile) says:

Both sides are guilty and correct

The Shapira column in the Post actually makes a few interesting points. One, it notes that the Gawker story does a poorer job attributing the original that it should. Second, he correctly observes that the Gawker story pulls more quotes out of the original story than the normal commentary blog post. That being said, Shapira, clearly a conflicted journalist, blames Gawker not so much for stealing eyeballs from his story (he admits that his story got more hits because of the Gawker post), but for not producing enough eyeballs to save an otherwise dying industry. He also blames Gawker and its ilk for diluting the online ad market, which is an argument that holds no water.

The argument here isn’t who’s stealing from whom (no one is shocked at this point that newspaper journalists take stories from online and vice-versa), it’s the “ethics” of stealing. How much attribution is necessary? How many quotes are too many quotes to pull from the original story? As blogging becomes, for lack of a better word, more “professional,” I suspect that this ethic will harden into a firmer code. Of course, newspapers would love to go back to the days when the only place to receive their content was via their newspaper. That’s clearly not going to happen. At the same time, however, bloggers, especially those hoping to elevate the craft, should be weary of this foolish us-versus-them mentality.

Anonymous Coward says:

law blogs

there’s a reason why WSJ closed their law section. why read a mainstream pub when you can get specific info and low bullshit writing from blogs like pop tort, patently o, chicago ip lit, and above the law? (gene quinn’s plugging of his study courses is just as bad as your book referral bullshit). of course, some people read TD because it’s lik watching a train wreck over and over again.

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