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The Gawker-WaPo SNAFU: Credit Where Credit is Due

nolan shapira[SNAFU: “Situation normal: all f*cked up”]

At the end of last week, Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira wrote a profile of a niche consultant — a “generational guru” — who teaches clients to communicate with members of different generations. Later that day, Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan picked up the story, snarked it down, added a couple of links — one at the top, one at the bottom — and posted it. Business as usual, right? Wrong.

Yesterday Shapira reflected on Gawker’s use of his original article in the Post‘s Outlook section; his response was more catharsis than a call to arms. Shapira admits being thrilled that his piece was picked up by Gawker, at first. “More readers are better than fewer, of course,” he writes. Then, when reflecting on all the “painstaking” man hours he put into reporting the piece — more than a day’s work — he started to resent Nolan’s post.

Gawker’s version of my story, headlined ” ‘Generational Consultant’ Holds America’s Fakest Job,” begins by telling its readers to “Meet Anne Loehr” — with a link to my story but no direct mention of The Post.

Columbia Journalism Review‘s Megan Garber calls the Outlook piece a Socratic dialogue between “Ian Shapira the Washington Post writer, and Ian Shapira the Washington Post staffer.” Garber is right that it’s borderline tedious to hear from a two-faced Shapira (especially when one face, the chilled-out writer who is happy to have pickup, is “more likable” than the other), but Garber points out that Shapira’s story has value as a historical anecdote, a resounding sound of the times:

In all that, Shapira-the-amalgam makes a fairly fitting allegory for most every journalist still practicing right now: a giddy mix of gratification-at-still-being-employed, and fear-that-the-employment-will-prove-all-too-finite. So, then: who’s right? Which approach, applied to the paid content conversation, is the correct one to adopt?

Zachary M. Seward of Nieman Journalism Lab evaluated the pick up according to Fair Use guidelines, and from there attempted a “back of the envelope” cost-benefit anaylsis of the transaction for Gawker and the Post, respectively. He figured that Gawker made its money back ten-fold on the post, which, according to him, cost somewhere around $20 to post and publish. Seward doesn’t make a guess at the Post‘s revenue from Shapira’s original post, but it can’t have been ten times the cost of reporting.

Probably the most important question, which Seward leaves unaddressed, is how much money did the Post make from referrals from Gawker. More than zero dollars, we presume. But this isn’t about the money, and Shapira never said it was.

“It is entirely possible that more people viewed his piece on the Post’s site as a result of the version appearing on the web,” wrote Dean Baker, co-director of The Center for Economic and Policy Research, in his Beat the Press blog on The American Prospect‘s site. Baker reads an overarching Post philosophy in Shapira’s Outlook piece, extrapolating a  larger protectionist approach to the link economy. According to Baker:

By way of response, Shapira wants “news organizations” to have the right to sue others that use their work without permission and profit from it.

Shapira never says that, or anything close. And clearly there’s a strain of I-know-economics-better-than-you-do machismo in Baker’s writing (“There is a simple point that anyone who knows economics (taboo at the Post) would make.”) Granted Baker is an economist, but Shapira doesn’t mention lawsuits until the bottom of his article, and even then he mentions that legal action in this instance would be “far-fetched.”

Shapira felt slighted by Nolan’s lack of attribution, not compensation:

After talking with Denton, Nolan and others for this article, I still want a fluid blogosphere, but one where aggregators — newspapers included — are more transparent about whom they’re heavily excerpting. They should mention the original source immediately. And if bloggers want to excerpt at length, a fee would be the nice, ethical gesture.

(By the way, Gawker chief Nick Denton called Shapira’s response “eminently reasonable” on Twitter; other balked at the notion of a fee).

Rachel Sklar, Mediaite’s editor-at-large, underscored the importance of thoughtful and forthcoming links on this site, writing: “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.” In a day and age when most news organizations are struggling to stay in the black, links and credit don’t cost a thing and go a long way toward protecting the utility and conversation that give online outlets an edge over print.

Gawker’s managing editor Gabriel Snyder skirts the attribution issue, instead congratulating himself for saying “the things that hidebound newspaper editors are too scared to let their reporters write,” and the succinctness of his writer’s work. He goes on to point out that somebody in the Post’s communications department sent Shapira’s article to him. Even so, where was Snyder as an editor when Nolan buried the links to Shapira’s article and failed to mention Shapira’s work? If that’s situation normal, then that’s f*cked up.

Pic of Hamilton Nolan from PR Newser; pic of Ian Shapira from his Twitter.

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