Did Gawker Rip Off The Washington Post? Yep.


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“The more I toggled between my editor’s e-mail and the eight-paragraph Gawker item, the angrier I got, and the more disenchanted I became with the journalism business.”

So wrote Ian Shapira in today’s Washington Post, describing his reaction to Gawker’s write-up of his recent story on a consultant who explains Millennials to Gen-Xers and Boomers.  At first he felt flattered; then, ripped off.

He’s right to feel that way. He was.

The blogosphere has done something weird to the media industry: Now, the imprimatur of having contributed something is not the original byline, but whether your piece was “picked up.” Pickup provides that extra stamp of relevance, that what you did is worthy of inclusion by the all-important aggregators — the outlets which determine the days need-to-know stories, so busy people with no time to read any of it will at least know what’s up. Yes, yes, congratulations on getting your little article published in a top national newspaper — but a Drudge/Romenesko/HuffPo/Gawker link? Awesome!

It’s not just about traffic, it’s about affirmation: You’re on to something. You’re relevant.

But while affirmation is nice, attribution is nicer. Which is why my reaction to that quote from Shapira was this:  “Eight paragraphs off one story? Not even credited up top? They’d nail HuffPo for that.”

There’s a fine line between being an aggregator — distilling salient information, enough both to inform and to pique, for the purposes of clicking through — and just, as Shapira says, proceeding to “cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views.”

When I started at FishbowlNY, I was very paranoid about not missing anything.  I remember one New York Observer story that I painstakingly blogged, after which my boyfriend at the time pointed out that I’d written a very nice book report, but not added anything to the piece. So, my rule on blogging is — add something. If you’re just making sure your audience knows it, give them the succint, salient details and then link out. Better is if you can add context, analysis, information — and attribute like a mofo.

That last part — attribution — is also key.

Page views are important, as any of us trying to make a go of it online will tell you. And there’s no question that it’s a ripoff when an entire 8-paragraph post is pulled from one source, even if rewritten in the sardonic Gawker voice. But there’s more to this than just a straight rip off – it’s about crediting and attribution, too.

gawker rip-off iiI know this from personal experience, from this piece, about a white supremacist getting play in big media after the Holocaust Museum shooting, which I wrote up and sent to Gawker and which John Cook used to write this piece, including my screengrab (Update: Cook informs me that the screengrab he used was actually a different screengrab, taken from the same report). Cook’s original version said I “noted” that the white supremacist was interviewed on NBC, and then went on to present all the information I’d come up with through research and digging into the white supremacist’s nauseating blog. I emailed Gawker ME Gabriel Snyder, and they changed it to “attacked” and lengthened the link to my piece, and said I “noted” something else, but that still felt like too little, considering the whole post had been derived from one source – me. (My request for linked story hed and source at the bottom was refused.)  John Cook’s take was smart and made some good observations of its own, but it was still sourced wholly in the work I had done.  If the goal is to present great information – great. And it’s not like Charitini, where I posted it at the time, gets anything from traffic. I don’t even monitor it. But crediting for the work I do — all the work I do — means something to me.

These things are not cut-and-dried. If the Gawker item had credited Shapira by name up top, and praised his reporting at the bottom, it still would have been 8 paragraphs worth of summarizing his work. (But would Shapira have written this piece? Hmm.)  Fair Use rules take into account how much of the work was used, whether it was added to/improved/commented on, and whether the allegedly-infringing use affects the market for the original work. There’s no formula for this and, especially with respect to the latter, these are murky things to assess across platforms (would anyone reading Gawker have clicked on this link from WaPo anyway?).  And it’s hardly fair to blame Gawker for a form that has become institutionalized across the blogosphere. (Not to mention all those times that major newspapers picked up stories first broken by blogs without crediting!)

But we’re at a point where something’s gotta give: Where aggregators are surfing to new heights on the backs of content providers going broke paying for reporting; where audiences are now so fragmented that distribution relies so much more on the grace of these aggregators; where attribution and credit is becoming that much more important for personal brands, more important now that platforms at established publications grow more scarce and opportunities for paying work plummet. At minimum, if something’s gotta give, then let it be  credit and links, considering what’s being “given” from the other side.

The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition) [WaPo]

Generational Consultant Holds America’s Fakest Job [Gawker]
Speaking To Generation Nexus: Guru Explains Gens X, Y, Boomer to One Another [WaPo]
ABC, NBC, CBS, Washington Post and AP Give Hate-Mongering White Supremacist Airtime, Facetime, and the Chance to “Turn Some Bad PR Lemons Into Lemonade.” [Charitini]
Holocaust Museum Attack Is an Excellent Media Opportunity For Deranged Racists [Gawker]

This piece was shamelessly ripped off from Charitini. I’m totally suing.

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