Musings on Interesting Developments in Media – Why Social Media is Revolutionizing Communications

This weekend in the Washington Post, there was an interesting article in the Outlook section written by a reporter named Ian Shapira who had written a story that he claims was essentially re-packaged by Gawker and published entitled "How Gawker Ripped Off My Story and Why it's Destroying Journalism".  In it, the author describes his growing indignation that a story he researched and wrote was then taken by Gawker who felt it was ok to "re-write and re-publish, cherry-pick for the funniest quotes, sell ads against it…" without much attribution back to the Post.  The article effectively calls into question who owns what these days?

While admitting that the article in Gawker probably caused an uptick in traffic to view his article online, what is the ultimate benefit to the Washington Post?  And where does one draw the line between original content publication and rewriting?  

But also, doesn't it happen the other way around?  Mainstream media are an important resource for bloggers, of that there is no doubt, and traditional journalism is foundational to all forms of media.  But doesn't it often happen that just as ideas for writing come to bloggers from the mainstream media, doesn't the mainstream media also mine content and get story ideas from bloggers?  Is there a return in attribution always for the story that results?  And is there a difference between news and feature stories?  And ultimately, who owns the news?  

Newspaper journalism is going through a very difficult transition.  The business model is disappearing and the eyeballs are going to online media.  One reason is that, like broadcast, newspaper journalism is trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience.  Part of the answer to Ian Shapira's questions on the death of journalism have less to do with bloggers ripping off their work, than the content of the newspaper itself.  For example, next to Ian Shapira's thoughtful piece was yet another piece on President Obama hosting the professor and the policeman for a beer at the White House.  That followed Friday's Washington Post that had the entire second and third pages also about the beer drinking party.  That, it seems to me, is the death of journalism.   People are tired of broadcasting, people are embracing niche-casting – news aimed specifically at them and their interests and to be relevant today, people in communications need to understand and navigate that reality.  

But back to the reprint issue raised by Shapira?  He notes that Associated Press – a wire service whose whole point of existence is to be picked up and re-purposed is putting its foot down.  According to Mashable, the AP is going to start charging $2.50 a word for using its content on line, meaning that if you cut and paste a headline of theirs into Twitter, you presumably will have to pay them for the privilege of spreading their news.  Does that make sense?

For those seeking answers, you might consider reading the new book by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, called Free:  The Future of a Radical Price, The book is premised on the theory that information wants to and will be free and that the Internet is a natural catalyst to enable that to happen.  In his recent review in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell recounts a story of a newspaper negotiating the price of subscription services through Kindle whereby Amazon, as owner of the device on which people would read the periodical would get 70% of the subscription fee, while the originator of the content would get only 30%  (you can, by the way, order The New Yorker on Kindle).  It would appear that Anderson believes the world has already changed and that those whose work is being re-copied should be grateful for the added exposure.  Both the book and the review of it are highly recommended.  

I don't have answers to the questions raised here.  But there is one solid thing I know for sure.  Journalism is changing more quickly than the answers to these question are forthcoming.  And there is no going back which is why it is important for all who work in communications understand the nature of the back and forth and take in strategic considerations about their approach to traditional media and emerging media, or risk getting left behind.  
By the way, tomorrow, the Washington Post will be holding a discussion with the author of the Gawker article.  
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter
This entry was posted in New and Social Media. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Musings on Interesting Developments in Media – Why Social Media is Revolutionizing Communications

  1. pierce moffett says:

    It seems to me that there are at least 2 distinct issues, although they often get mixed up with one another in the reporting of this story. One issue has to do with how various media outlets distribute one another’s material. For example, it may make sense for amazon to get 70% of the revenues from distribution of a magazine subscription through the Kindle — the remaining 30% is presumably “pure profit” for the magazine publisher, and amazon.com is bearing the costs of marketing. Washington Post, likewise, is probably not objecting to Gawker’s informing more readers about the Post’s content and increasing the page links.
    The problem comes in when “writers” or “editors” at a site like gawker basically copy an article that was written by someone else, shuffle a few words around, and then take credit for the final product as their own work with little or no attribution to the original author. This really seems to me to be at the focal point of the gawker case. At least when I went to college, if a student did something like this in a writing class, it would have been considered to be pretty clearly plagiarism, and the student would have landed in a lot of trouble. Is it not plagiarism because it’s on the internet? Because it’s 2009? Because people no longer understand that even a fluff newspaper article requires considerable skill and effort to produce?
    You ask, “does it happen the other way around?” I’m sure that mainstream media publication pick up story ideas from blogs — but do they plaigiarise blog content? Do newspaper writers take articles written by bloggers, rephrase them, and then take credit for them as their own work? That, I imagine, is very, very rare.

  2. pierce moffett says:

    It seems to me that there are at least 2 distinct issues, although they often get mixed up with one another in the reporting of this story. One issue has to do with how various media outlets distribute one another’s material. For example, it may make sense for amazon to get 70% of the revenues from distribution of a magazine subscription through the Kindle — the remaining 30% is presumably “pure profit” for the magazine publisher, and amazon.com is bearing the costs of marketing. Washington Post, likewise, is probably not objecting to Gawker’s informing more readers about the Post’s content and increasing the page links.
    The problem comes in when “writers” or “editors” at a site like gawker basically copy an article that was written by someone else, shuffle a few words around, and then take credit for the final product as their own work with little or no attribution to the original author. This really seems to me to be at the focal point of the gawker case. At least when I went to college, if a student did something like this in a writing class, it would have been considered to be pretty clearly plagiarism, and the student would have landed in a lot of trouble. Is it not plagiarism because it’s on the internet? Because it’s 2009? Because people no longer understand that even a fluff newspaper article requires considerable skill and effort to produce?
    You ask, “does it happen the other way around?” I’m sure that mainstream media publication pick up story ideas from blogs — but do they plaigiarise blog content? Do newspaper writers take articles written by bloggers, rephrase them, and then take credit for them as their own work? That, I imagine, is very, very rare.

  3. Mark Senak says:

    Thanks Pierce. I wholly concur. Thanks for the comment. Mark