Print Mindset vs. Internet Mindset: Do You Link? Do You Credit Sources?

from the fight-for-the-digital-ages dept

We recently wrote about how the NY Post was caught taking a blogger's story and rewriting it for itself -- noting the hypocrisy of a News Corp. newspaper copying from someone else, after Rupert Murdoch and his top execs have been going around decrying various news aggregators (and Google especially) for "stealing" from News Corp. newspapers. It's even more ridiculous when you think about it -- because the "stealing" that Rupert is upset about is Google linking to the original story -- a step that his NY Post writer couldn't even be bothered to do.

Of course, as a few people pointed out in the comments, this sort of "re-reporting" is quite common in the traditional news business. You see it all the time in newspapers, magazines and broadcast TV. They take a story that was found somewhere else and just "re-report" it, so that they have their own version of it. That this is incredibly inefficient and a total waste of reporters' resources never seems to be considered. But it's a very traditional reporting mindset.

But sometimes that leads to trouble. Felix Salmon has an excellent discussion going about how the recent NY Times plagiarism "scandal" really came about because of this mindset. First, he notes that the "reason" that reporter Zachary Kouwe gave for plagiarizing a variety of stories on his NY Times blog, was that he saw the stories elsewhere and wanted to re-report them and "in the essence of speed" clearly cut some corners in his re-reporting. But, as Salmon notes, this is a traditional reporting mindset. An internet blogging mindset would just see this story, and in the "essence of speed" link to it:
If there's a minor news story on a trustworthy wire service, and you think you need it on the blog, then link to it. You add no value by rushing -- with "essence of speed", no less -- to get the exact same story yourself. You're a well-paid full-time journalist at the New York Times; there are surely higher and better uses of your valuable time than going back to rewrite a story which already exists elsewhere.

The sin that resulted in Kouwe's departure from the NYT was that he rewrote badly, and left large chunks of other people's work unchanged in his own copy. But the true underlying sin was that he spent so much time rewriting in the first place: the beauty of blogs, which exist to link elsewhere, is that he should never have needed to do that at all.
Salmon goes on to point out that the big newspapers, like the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal, keep putting traditional reporters in charge of their blogs (not always, but quite frequently), and they blog like reporters, rather than digital natives. That is, they re-report stuff, rather than linking. And that's often because traditional reporters lived by the "scoop" and the idea that they had to be first. Acknowledging that someone else got the story first is seen as an admission of failure. But in the blogging world, it's seen as a sign of respect and of gratitude. But it's difficult for those who've lived in that first world to get their heads wrapped around this.

We recently wrote about the important role of curation in journalism -- which includes the ability to link to other stories, and add value to those stories (whether by fact checking or commentary or discussion). But too many traditional newspapers still have no interest in that kind of journalism, even as greater and greater numbers of their readers are actively seeking it out.

Filed Under: blogging, internet, journalism, links, plagiarism, print, reporting, zachary kouwe

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2010 @ 6:38am


    the only reason they do it is because they want to keep visitors on their site. you do the same thing, just to a lesser degree. you have multiple obligatory crosslinks even if their relevance is utterly specious. you also quote massive walls of text from other people's articles. you're the #111 criticizing the #000 for being too dark.

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