Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Honor among thieves

Last week, Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo created a bit of a stir when he said "enough is enough" to what he saw as mainstream organizations ripping off work that his slim reporting staff at an affiliated site,, had gotten the beat on. The AP, which he was targeting, later moved a clarification crediting TPMuckracker for the scoop.

Marshall had some insightful words at the time:

We're in a period of often uncomfortable flux in the news business. And as the containers into which the news is poured and the structure of the industry itself both change, it's understandable that stuff like this happens. My point in flagging this yesterday was not to zing the particular reporter or news organization. I'm not in this business to rack up 'as first reported by' lines. But reporters and news outlets that do solid, enterprise journalism should be credited for their work. And we shouldn't lose sight of that even as the formats we write in change.
Now, Marshall's caught CNN red-handed, it seems. The photo here is from CNN's Web site via Talking Points Memo (instead of just linking, I have downloaded the photo becuase I want a permanent record -- normally I try not to lift others' work and link when possible. But for the purposes of commentary ...)

That logo the arrow points to is TPM's, and it was part of the photo TPM originally ran on its Web site.

It would be interesting to hear CNN's explanation. (The comment lines are open, though from a network whose president says it did everything right during the Sago mine disaster I don't expect we'll hear much.)

But this is part of a larger issue I see developing. I've commented here recently on the idea that some rumors -- ones that would never make it into print in the form in which they were put on the Web -- seem to be fair game on at least one newspaper's Web site.

Neswspaper staffers at some Web sites use aliases as well as their real names -- wonder if that would be allowed in print, huh? (No, I'm not going to link to them because some ongoing projects and colleagues are involved. Suffice it to say that it has been noted by researchers looking into the growth of community journalism sites, specifically those affiliated with existing news operations). And in at least one case, a colleague reports seeing a staffer Google photos and just snatch them from the search results with no check on copyright.

Isolated instances, all. But it tells me there is a vein of thought out there -- I don't know whether it is deep or shallow -- that somehow sees new media as less serious. By serious, I don't mean we should write and act on the Web in the stentorian tones and delivered-from-on-high attitudes that have come to infect so many MSM. I mean that it worries me when we start to bend our ethics even slightly like this, that we, perhaps, start rationalizing away the questions because, well, "it's the Web, after all."

This bears much closer monitoring. Let's hope it doesn't become a deep vein for Romenesko (who has an item today about the Cincinnati Enquirer's Iraq war blog that didn't quite fully disclose that "Grandma in Iraq" is basically an Army PR operative (more from E&P)).


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