We’ve got a burgeoning internet news market here in Seattle, and that means that there’s a lot of folks scrambling on a day to day basis to fill the news hole. Some days nothing happens, and that makes it stressful for those of us that need to keep an audience engaged and entertained.
All news is somewhat iterative. You see something somewhere else, maybe look into it some more, and then are inspired to fit it into your beat or area of coverage.
But there’s a tradition in the internet world that didn’t previously exist in print or TV. The internet allows this thing called links. They’re simple to do and don’t take much space. And the tradition has been that if you see something somewhere else and then write about it, you give at least a simple link and some credit to the place that inspired you. And especially if you see something and then use that research, how ever small, and just add your own words around it, you should definitely give credit where credit is due. Often it’s called a hat tip, or H/T for short, acknowledging the inspiration for your work and being honest with your audience that it wasn’t entirely original.
And maybe this will seem petty. Maybe it’s an indication that I should have had only one beer instead of two at Oddfellows tonight. But a couple of weeks ago I saw a crew replace the street signs outside of my house. Being a collective and sentimental nerd, I craved the old signs. I went out and talked to the crew and found that I would have to go down to the surplus store to get them. I did so, found out more about the process, and filed a mental note to write about it sometime in the future.
That future ended up being this morning at 9:17am. It wasn’t groundbreaking journalism. I spent a total of about 25 minutes getting a photo, finding links, and writing some copy. But it’s a good example of something that has started happening too often around here, where blogs find stories elsewhere and rewrite it for their own use without credit.
Now maybe a citywide site was miraculously and independently inspired to write the same story at 1:30pm today. And maybe another neighborhood blog was similarly inspired later at 1:13pm
4:17pm. (Update: the link here was changed from QueenAnneView to KOMO, who first republished without attribution and are probably the worst of the local content thieves. Update x2: We’ve learned that KOMO was the original thief. Please blame them and not QueenAnneView) But the combination of the same facts, links, etc makes me a bit suspicious that they applied some quality writing skills to repeat the same story without credit. That another citywide site linked to one of the later posters adds a bit of aggravation to it all. And of course there was an 11pm TV newscast that repeated the story without credit to anyone, but TV has been doing that for years and years so it’s no big surprise.
I know first hand that often times you can be working on a story, doing research, and just happen to get beat to the “publish” button by someone else. But that is usually self-evident from the writing. They’ll each cover separate facts, probably talk to separate people, and have different takes on the story. But most cases I’ve found around here recently aren’t like that.
Here’s a couple of rules of thumb:
- If you’re inspired to write about something by something else you see on the internets, add a simple link somewhere within your story. Readers can then honestly judge how much independent effort you put into it
- If you take a press release or a blog post from a public agency and rewrite it, go ahead and let people know the source, with a link if it’s online. Otherwise it’s dishonest to your audience to imply through silence that you did some original reporting on it.
- If you’re looking for information for your corporate news blog, it’s probably not completely ethical to rely on your competitor’s calendar entries as your primary source of content, adding a few words and stock photos around them to juice things up.
- If you’re really just rewriting someone else’s story, save everyone some time and just blockquote what they say and add a link. It’s a lot easier on the psyche and allows you to move on and spend time on something original.
It’s simple: Be honest. Give credit where credit is due. Expect the same from others. And then you’ll benefit from your hard (or not) original work and everyone else will too.
Update x3: We’ve got some slow learners