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.

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  1. icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 5:50am

    "But the true underlying sin was that he spent so much time rewriting in the first place"

    I can't help but be reminded of IBM's deal with Microsoft to create an operating system. IBM paid Microsoft by the number of lines of code. In other words, you earned less by writing tight and efficient code and were rewarded by writing bloated code. Microsoft tried to explain this to IBM but, that's the way IBM did it and they wouldn't budge.

    I'm sure some of the bloggers at the New York Times understand that its utterly ridiculous to rewrite what has already been written. But the old fogies in charge won't change because their way is the way it's always been done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Richard (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 6:18am

    It's not the "scoop" mentality

    In fact it's the "completeness" requirement.
    With a traditional physical paper you assume that the reader will only buy one and so referring him to somewhere else is pointless. Every newspaper has to contain a complete set of all the important stories of the day. Therefore you have to "cover" all the stories that are in your competitors. papers.

    The web is of course very very different in its "reading model" and so the business model has to be different too.

    The papers could save an awful lot by NOT bothering to duplicate the work of their competitors - and this might be a key ingredient in rescuing them financially.

    However with proprietors like Murdoch you have to remember that it isn't just a business - it's also a tool for political influence. Changing to a new business model might work financially but it wouldn't appeal to Murdoch if his political power was diluted as a side effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 6:46am

    Re: It's not the "scoop" mentality

    "However with proprietors like Murdoch you have to remember that it isn't just a business - it's also a tool for political influence."

    See, I think you ALMOST got it there, just one step short. If it isn't only about business but also political influence, what is he using that political influence for? We've already agreed it isn't just business. That's where Murdoch gets very, very frightening....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    CRB, 9 Mar 2010 @ 6:51am

    Re: hypocrisy

    Um, no. Mike is doing exactly what he should be doing. He's providing credit and offering links back to the original stories. He's not re-writing and taking credit. In fact, he's not even so much re-reporting on any level as he is providing commentary on existing material. It's in no way hypocritical.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Beta, 9 Mar 2010 @ 7:13am

    need a new language

    Suppose the New York Times ran an article saying that scientists had found evidence for life on Mars (as they did in 1996). Most people would believe it, and read with great interest. But if the Weekly World News ran the same article (albiet with slightly different style) few people would pay attention because the News is a silly rag that runs articles about little green men every week. But now suppose the News runs the story, the Times checks it, finds it to be accurate and posts a link to it. Most Times readers would not say "Life on mars? How fascinating!", they'd say "what's going on at the Times? They're linking to drivel!" It would be as if the head waiter in a fine restaraunt advised a customer to try the pastries in the dumpster out in the alley: it doesn't matter how good the pastry is, what matters is that we're just not used to getting that kind of recommendation (there are other reasons, like convenience and style, but that's the big one). The Times would have to expend a lot of ink saying "look, we know it's hard to believe and the source doesn't inspire confidence, but we've checked every word and it really does stand up, it's all true," and even then it would make most readers very uneasy. For the same effort they could rewrite the story and not be tainted by the association.

    These are matters of instinct, not logic, and the market will reflect them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Flakey, 9 Mar 2010 @ 7:13am

    Source links

    Without exception, if I write an opinion on some current event, trend, or happening, I credit the source with the links that led to the write up.

    I would want any reader to be able to go check the source for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Flakey, 9 Mar 2010 @ 7:18am

    Re: Source links

    I forgot to mention that I never include the hyperlinks inside the article. When they exist I tell the reader that there are links to other sources found within the original article that are not present on the part I am commenting on. They will have to go to the original source link to get them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 7:27am

    Re: need a new language

    Mike is not arguing that no one should ever re-research and rewrite a story. His point is that most of the times it is unnecessary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: hypocrisy

    "Um, no. Mike is doing exactly what he should be doing. He's providing credit and offering links back to the original stories."

    I think Anon's complaint is that Mike et al. often link back to their own stories about a subject, rather than linking directly to the original subject that their earlier story linked to.

    It's an arguable point, but the techdirt way maintains context. (e.g.,' we disagreed with the subject in question earlier.')

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2010 @ 8:49am

    Re: need a new language

    If you've checked every word, then presumably you have other, more reliable, sources that you can link to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Rasmus, 9 Mar 2010 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: It's not the "scoop" mentality

    Can it really be a coincidence that a bunch of owners of huge media companies all promote legislation all over the world that basically use Orwelles book 1984 as a blueprint for society?

    Consider that both the Italian Fascist Party and the german Nazi Party identified control over media as the key to controlling society.

    And when you also consider the fact that IFPI was founded in Italy in 1933, during the Fascist rule and on initiative by the Italian Fascist Party? And that IFPI had one of their most important conferences in Portugal during 1950, when Portugal was still a fascist state.

    Can it be a coincidence that the Olympic games forces the organizing countries to stomp out free speech and block all criticism, when you consider the fact that the Olympic organization is known to have former Fascist and Nazi-party members in leading positions? Isn't one of the most successful Nazi propaganda events ever the Olympic games in Berlin 1936?

    What is the real political agenda of these organizations and all the aging men that control the largest international media corporations?

    How come media owners with a known disregard for democracy (like Murdoch) and several organizations with roots in the fascism of the 1930s is so heavily involved in a simultaneous attack on free speech?

    Is this really a coincidence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Yogi, 9 Mar 2010 @ 10:58am

    Good one

    Mike, the distinction between web journalism and paper journalism is an excellent observation.

    For me web journalism is more natural and easier to follow - i hate being restricted to one paper - if something interests me i want to know what other people think about it or saw about it - that way you get a complete picture. One paper or one site just can't do it alone.

    Of course this renders the idea of "owning" the news irrelevant and that's what's causing so much trouble for the old school papers. Once the baby boomers are gone - 10-20 years tops - the papers will die for good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2010 @ 12:09pm

    Sorry to pop your bubble Yogi but I'm a boomer and I get my news from the net. It's not the boomers that are the problem here.

    What the problem is, is that not everyone can get internet nor at a reasonable cost.

    What's holding the papers on is the corporations hell bent on making that dollar. Even with that effort their readership base is drying up as they look around and realize it no longer makes sense.

    This is what all the IP protection gangs are fighting. Since people have adopted the net, it's taking the place of all other forms of entertainment bit by bit.

    The market has changed and what people want have changed from the old days. It's a fundamental change that happened so fast that these businesses and corps are standing there scratching their heads trying to figure out to get back in the game.

    When the merger mania hit and all these corporations bought each other out, eliminated the duplicate job positions and then turned around and off shored them, a lot of changes occurred in the market place. Cheaper is now demanded in costs, doesn't matter if it's a net market or out on the economy.

    Layoffs took people that were needed to do the jobs as they were done. This is one of the reasons for the rewrite of news. They simply don't have a bunch of reporters running around doing investigative news anymore. The quality of news has declined as a result. What is now toted as prime news isn't on par with work done in the same field 20 years ago. Readers realize this instinctively and don't value what they see as a vehicle to serve them ads as worth it anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 6:39pm

    "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. "

    Perhaps if they did link outward and aggregate they would get more people going to their site and using it as opposed to people only going their when there are articles of interest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    adorno, 10 Mar 2010 @ 12:20am

    No, I just cut and paste whatever I need from blogs and never credit or link back.

    I don't see anythng wrong with it. Its all free, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 10 Mar 2010 @ 2:52pm

    Reporting and bloggers

    Excellent article!
    I can recount a personal experience in this.
    I saw an article in the SJ Merc that was a reprint of an article in the LA Times, and clearly plagiarized from ScienceDaily (without attribution).
    It read something like this (I will show the gist of what was printed, and then show the balance from ScienceDaily:

    "Vitamin C shown to have no benefit" (and then, the "rest of the story" from ScienceDaily) "for heart attacks (only)".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Erik Gable, 25 Mar 2010 @ 1:11pm

    Value of re-reporting

    Ideally, we would link but ALSO re-report, because the community can benefit from having multiple voices doing original reporting on the same topic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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