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Yesterday’s print shop is today’s thievery

Posted by: | November 18, 2009 | No Comment |

Imagine reading something like this in a newspaper today:

“We learn from the Albany Daily Advertiser of yesterday from the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser of Saturday….”

That quote, taken from the Dec. 2, 1841 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript (and quoted in Mitchell Stephens‘ “A History of News“) was standard fare for early newspapers before the days of reporters. The heads of these newspapers, who filled the roles of editor, writer and publisher, let the news come to them, instead of going out and getting news.

As a result, you had newspapers who were proud to publish the work of others, with some publications even placing advertisements wishing for people to bring “foreign papers” to America.

Fast forward to a present example of attribution, loosely defined.

  • July 9, 2009 Washington Post staff writer Ian Shapira wrote an article entitled, “Speaking to Generation Nexus,” a profile of a woman entrenched in a unique profession.
  • July 9, 2009 – Later that day, New York-based culture web site Gawker picked up Shapira’s article, summarized it, and ran it as a blog entry, with what Shapira describes as minimal attribution.
  • Aug. 2, 2009 – Shapira blasted this technique in a Washington Post opinion piece.
  • Aug. 2, 2009 – Washington Post commenters blast Shapira.

It is safe to say that hostility was flying throughout this whole sequence of events. Shapira felt like he did original work that should not have been copied and pasted in as detailed a form as it was. The actions, while legal, have triggered a firestorm of moral and ethical debates on whether web sites have the right to freely repurpose content.

Backing up to the beginnings of early newspapers in America, it’s safe to say that the reaction was way different.

While the Gawker entry’s author, Hamilton Nolan, did in fact link to the Washington Post story in it’s original post, there was no pointed text telling the reader that the information was taken from Shapira’s article. That’s where Shapira’s complaint lies.

Older newspapers would take whatever they could get from other papers and essentially create an aggregated publication with old, irrelevant and often incorrect news.

And when news reporters began going to FIND their stories, original work began to take on more value. It’s obvious by Shapira’s response to the Gawker story how valuable original reporting is today.

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