And Another One: CNN Found 'Ripping Off' Others' Reporting

from the this-happens-all-the-time dept

Remember a few weeks back when a Washington Post reporter claimed that Gawker was "ripping off" his reporting, despite the fact that the Gawker piece linked back to the original article three times? Since then, we've noted how common it is for the mainstream press to do much worse to bloggers, quite often giving them no credit at all and pretending they came up with the stories entirely on their own.

Well, here we go again...

If you're a reader of Reason, you're probably well aware of the massive amount of work that writer Radley Balko has put into investigating Steven Hayne, a controversial Mississippi medical examiner, whose testimony and autopsy practices were called into serious question by Balko's research and reporting. Balko has spent years exposing Hayne (and some of his colleagues) for practices that, if true, are abhorrent. Balko's investigative research and reporting has been instrumental in overturning questionable verdicts. If you're looking into Steven Hayne, there's simply no way you can avoid Balko's reporting and research on the subject.

And, it appears that CNN didn't avoid Balko's research and reporting either, in its own reporting on Hayne, as a part of Anderson Cooper 360. Much of what was done by CNN appears to have come straight from Balko's research -- and sources quoted by CNN told Balko that CNN claims it found them via his articles. But, does CNN credit Balko for any of it? Nope. Not at all.

Because, you see, it's only "ripping off" when it's the "alternative media" properly citing the mainstream press... not when the mainstream press doesn't credit the alternative media at all.

As Tim Lee notes, there's nothing wrong with what CNN did, but it does show how silly it is to claim that it's these other sites or "parasitic aggregators" that "rip off" the mainstream press, when the mainstream media has been doing the same thing for ages -- and continues to do it without any qualms whatsoever. Tim notes:
Now this isn't illegal. Nor should it be. But it is rather unprofessional. And I think it's a good illustration of what's wrong with the standard story about large media organizations producing the news and blogs cutting and pasting. Not only does the sharing goes in both directions, but I think people have a skewed perception of which direction is more common precisely because blogs do a better job of crediting their sources. When Gawker builds on a Washington Post story, they don't try to pretend it was original reporting; they give credit, provide a link, and they'll often just quote the original story rather than re-interviewing all the same sources. So it's obvious who's copying whom. In contrast, when a mainstream media outlet like CNN decides to build on the reporting of an online source, they do a lot of extra (and possibly unnecessary) work to avoid giving credit. One consequence is that only in really blatant cases (like this one) does anyone catch them.

There's a clear double standard here. If it's wrong for a blogger to build a story on a mainstream media story with attribution and a link, it's even more wrong for a mainstream media outlet to build on a blogger's story without a word of credit. CNN owes Radley a prominent link to his past work. And an apology.
Indeed. But whereas the story from the Washington Post reporter kicked up a huge discussion on ethics of reporting, who wants to bet that this one dies a quiet death without the mainstream media mentioning it at all?
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Filed Under: anderson cooper, journalism, radley balko, ripping off, steven hayne


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re:

    "So they paraphrased it."

    Nope, even the story as printed here shows that CNN people contacted and interviewed people about the story (as this is how this all "came out"), and used those interviews for a story. They wrote and reported their own version of the story.

    It isn't any different from a newspaper revealing a corruption scandal, and having the TV news that night report the same thing. It is unlikely that they would give credit either (except possibly in passing.

    What I don't get is this: Techdirt (Mike) is particular about trying to tear down copyright / patent so people can use other people's ideas and property, add 1% to it, and claim it as their own. Yet when there is even a sniff of the mainstream media doing the same, suddenly it is a terrible thing?

    The news never resets to zero. A story that is out there is a story that is out there. CNN did nothing wrong, they saw a published story, investigated further, interviewed people, and reported what they found. Tomorrow, CNN will break that Obama said something naughty, and every blog in the universe will be all over it. If they weren't there, how are they reporting it? Oh wait, they are paraphrasing CNN, without bothering to interview anyone to get their own story.

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