The Napster Of Newspapers
from the cut-and-paste dept
Over at Slate, writer Jody Rosen is discussing what he believes may be one of the "biggest" cases of plagiarism ever discovered: an entire Texas-based free alternative weekly newspaper that appears to have an awful lot of plagiarized content. Rosen only discovered it when someone pointed out to him that one of his own columns appeared (in part) in the newspaper, The Bulletin. As he looked into it, he realized that the article actually mashed up three separate articles written by others, making very minor changes and not even doing much to hide the very different writing styles.
The more he looked, the more plagiarism he found. He eventually got his hands on the latest paper issue of the newspaper, and worked out that every single article, other than some short blurbs about local events, appeared to be plagiarized in this manner. Even the letters to the editor were plagiarized from elsewhere. And while he does sound a little bit ticked off at having his work used in this way, he seems more amused by the whole thing. And while the following paragraph is almost certainly meant sarcastically, there's a point to it:
But perhaps the Bulletin is merely on-trend--or even ahead of its time. The Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and Real Clear Politics have made names and money by sifting through RSS feeds; Tina Brown and Barry Diller are preparing the launch of their own news aggregator. Mike Ladyman and company may simply be bringing guerilla-style 21st-century content aggregation to 20th-century print media: publishing the Napster of newspapers.Or there may be a better description: it's the mashup or mixtape of newspapers. Most of the plagiarized articles (all of which have been taken off the web since Slate published Rosen's article) involve bits and pieces from other articles, trying to craft (weakly, from the sound of it), a new article of sorts. And yes, it's sleazy for the (tiny) Bulletin staff to have pretended to write these articles themselves, but is it all that different than what Girl Talk does with music -- which people celebrate (though, to be fair, Girl Talk's mashups are actually good, which makes a difference).
Either way, this is not to condone what The Bulletin has done. It's definitely underhanded and scammy -- and, hopefully thanks to this expose, the folks behind the paper find their reputation deservedly knocked down a few pegs. But, from a cultural standpoint, it's quite interesting. Matt Mason posits that such mashups are often a sign of an unmet market need in his book The Pirate's Dilemma. He points to many similar "mashups" in other fields that later resulted in legitimate enterprises. So, perhaps all this really tells us is that there's a market for taking good content from all over the place, and "mashing" it all up together in a useful manner -- which is exactly what some aggregator sites already do.