Saturday, March 13, 2010

What is Content Stealing?

As I mentioned in the previous post, the Enquirer has rolled out a "First in Print" strategy, through which on Sundays certain articles will appear only in the print edition until Monday morning, when they will then become available online. One justification cited by editor Tom Callinan is the blogosphere's theft of his paper's content:
Watching broadcast outlets, Web sites and blogs essentially rob newspapers of their hard - and expensive - reporting has long been a vexation, but not a mortal threat.*

When does a blog or website (why does the Enquirer's style book still require the capitalization of "web"?) "rob" a newspaper's content? Are Griff and I among the robbers responsible for the demise of the print media?

Neither Griff nor I has ever claimed to be a reporter. (To the contrary, I have repeatedly disclaimed any such notion.**) Instead, our typical post is a comment on a news story published elsewhere. We always reference--and link to--the source of the story. (In fact, when Griff initially invited me to blog, the only rule he gave me was to link to any story about which I post.) That's the same practice followed by other blogs I read. Is that robbery?

As I noted below, even the Enquirer follows the lead of other sources. The "Vanity Fair controversy" originated at Kate's Random Musings. Callinan himself wrote about it, attributing the story to Katy. The Enquirer reported on CityBeat's story about the unfortunate email from Monzel's aid, once again properly attributing its source. Was that robbery? And even in the Cole piece I talk about below, Jon Craig remarks that Cole's appointment "drew scorn from some bloggers." Really? Which bloggers? How about a link to one or more of the bloggers? Does Craig mean Griff? I hope not, because Griff's post doesn't criticize the appointment itself, only Cole's decision to leave her current post early.

So here's my question: what does the Enquirer consider fair use, and what, according to Callinan, is robbery? And how do the paper's own practices differ from those they condemn?

In this environment, the Enquirer isn't likely to create new positions anytime soon. But it should seriously consider the addition of a public editor or ombudsman who would write a weekly column. If the Enquirer is serious about consistently generating a quality product, it ought not be afraid of an independent person to perform a quality-assurance function.

*This sentence is a clear illustration of the utility of the serial comma. Until I got to "has long been a vexation," I thought that "watching broadcast outlets" was something websites and blogs did while robbing newspapers of their reporting. Once again, Judge Painter is correct; check out Rule 24 in the linked book. Of course, this is a "talking footnote," a Judge Painter no-no; see Rule 12.

**Obviously, there are exceptions. Griff typically "reports" on MPMF. If I happen to notice a restaurant opening or closing, I'll "report" on this--but even then, I'm usually scooped by Polly Campbell or Julie Niesen, to whom I link, if I know they've posted.

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