Should Mainstream Media Be Held to Different Standards Than Bloggers?

Is it Ok for MSM Not to Credit Blogs?

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Should mainstream media be held to different standards than bloggers when it comes to crediting sources? Mainstream media agencies have frequently turned their noses up at bloggers, essentially claiming that they steal and repurpose the work of their hard working journalists. While this may be true in some cases, it is hardly fair to say that this is true in general. In fact, this week, we’ve seen a clear example of the hypocrisy of this notion, because mainstream media publications are clearly just as guilty as blogs when it comes to improper crediting of sources.

Do traditional media publications have less of an obligation to credit sources than bloggers do? Tell us what you think.

This example came in the form of Search Engine Land Editor-in-Chief Danny Sullivan breaking a story, and then numerous publications running with it, without mentioning Danny’s piece as a source, which it clearly was in the instances he points out. He makes his case here, and we discussed it further, with some additional commentary from Danny here.

We asked Danny, who says he is a traditionally trained reporter, and worked for daily newspapers for five years, how often he thinks mainstream media outlets are taking stories from bloggers, twitterers, etc. "I think a substantial amount of news is coming off tips seen on forums, blog posts and elsewhere on the web. Not a majority. But a noticeable amount, I’d wager."

The AP is one organization that has famously expressed disdain with blogs in the past (ones that quoted AP stories and gave credit), and the AP stands out as an example Danny points to as a possible offender in his case. Note: after Danny called them out, a number of the publications (not including the AP) apologized and/or added links to their stories.

Out of the mainstream stories that do take from blogs, you have to wonder what percentage of them link to the source material, and how that stacks up to the percentage of bloggers linking to the mainstream sources.  While certainly not always the case, bloggers are traditionally not shy about linking, because most serious bloggers appreciate the value of a link, and know that not acknowledging sources can be damning to their reputations. Perhaps the offending parties in the mainstream assume that their reputations are already too great to worry about such things.

Government Involvement?

The FTC is considering whether or not it can step in and save journalism. Jeff Jarvis, writing for the New York Post, points to a "staff discussion" document from the Federal Trade Commission that proposes some ideas for "Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism". You might think that such a document would greatly acknowledge the impact of blogs on modern journalism, but as Jarvis notes, blogs are hardly mentioned.

"If the FTC wants to reinvent journalism, perhaps it should align with news’ disruptors," he writes. "But there’s none of that in this report. The word blog is used but once in 35 pages of text–and then only in a parenthetical mention of soccer blogs." In all fairness, the report does say:

"Studies have shown that newspapers typically provide the largest quantity of original news to consumers over any given period of time. We include within the term ‘newspapers’ online news websites run either by an existing newspaper or by an online-only news organization." (emphasis added)

It doesn’t define online-only news organization, and the line between online-only news organization and blog is anything but black and white. Google News tries to differentiate (though they’re all lumped together within the service).

Google News tries to differentiate blogs from other news sources, while still keeping them together

An important note at the beginning of the document reminds us, "This draft does not represent final conclusions or recommendations by the Commission or FTC staff; it is solely for purposes of discussion," but remember, these are potential policy recommendations.

Blogs Report (Not Just Regurgitate) News.

Blogs are press. Go to major events, and you will find bloggers with press passes. Companies and organizations view blogs as press. They give them information to report on – not only at events, but they send press releases and tips via email, and they call influential bloggers. On the flipside, bloggers hunt down facts. They research. They ask questions. They email and make phone calls. They even go on location. In many cases, especially within niches like the tech industry, blogs will break not only some of the news, but maybe most of it.

Jarvis put it well, when he said that "the barrier to entry into the media business has never been lower — and that means news can grow."

That low barrier may be looked upon too often as a negative, when in fact, it means there is room for more news, and more competition for breaking news. Yes, some of this material comes in the form of discussion around existing stories (and sure, regurgitation sometimes), but it also comes in the form of fresh news. As we’ve seen (with Danny’s example painting a pretty good illustration), mainstream media is also guilty of regurgitation, and can sometimes even be stingier about acknowledging sources.

So the real question is, why should mainstream media be held to a lesser standard for attribution than a blogger? Sound off in the comments.

Should Mainstream Media Be Held to Different Standards Than Bloggers?
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  • http://elastomatik.wordpress.com/ Edgar

    They are bought-and-payed-for Hypocrites, in everything they do;
    Why should they be any different as to credit blogs?
    They are going the way Dinosaurs did, so who cares anyway?

  • sofakingdabest

    Yes it will be free. But you may need a license to generate original content. Rupert, I charge big bucks for this kinda advice…

  • http://www.two-friends-travels.com John

    Of course they media should be held to different standards. Bloggers are never a reliable news source so we have to feel that our Media are at least trying to tell us the truth, even when sometimes that is not so.

    • shadowhunter1973

      Poppycock. The media exaggerate, invent and steal just as much as some naughty bloggers — more in many instances. They are just as easily bought (think corporate sponsors/ownership) with regards to what is even featured in the news and what is not. They are pampered and bribed for their support just as much as bloggers – more in fact. I have heard “journalists” snivel at seats they get at movie premieres or advance screenings, stating they will give a bad review just because they did not get the seat they wanted. So please. More reliable. I think not. The media wouldn’t know the actual truth if it came up and bit them in the one-sided arse. They are biased, make no mistake about it. They are all about ratings. Bloggers and journalists are the same in the online world. I know many bloggers with more integrity in the hair on their left pinky toe compared to some so-called journalists I know.

  • Guest

    What the MSM is notorious for – or should be – is their almost continual failure to disclose the backgrounds of their various guests and experts. They constantly have people on TV or in print that are identified in the most minimal sense. It’s one thing to say that someone works for Organization “A” and is here to talk about the Oil Spill. It would change people’s perceptions quite a bit if they then added: Organization “A” received 2 million dollars in grants last year from BP. But they don’t. Nor do they add, when they say someone works for The Heritage Institute, that Heritage is explicitly right wing in it’s orientation. They imply that “institutes” are above politics and that the positions of their spokespeople are objective.

    There are all sorts of media figures, think-tank people, government folks, academics, politicians, etc. who’s wives/husbands/children work for or are on the boards of companies that will be directly affected by legislation being shaped and debated, but that’s never mentioned either. They are always introduced in ways that imply that their views are based on objective facts etc. and could not possibly be influenced by the $200,000 their wife gets annually for sitting on the board of “X” company. Nor do they divulge that their guest used to work for such and such.

    Nor do they explain why they continually bring people on or print the opinions of people who literally don’t know what they are talking about, and who present demonstrably false information, either deliberately, or out of ignorance. Nor do they fact-check the misinformation that they disseminate.

    They really have a lot of nerve complaining about bloggers. Most bloggers are straight-up about their positions on the political continuum. MSM is NOT. They present themselves as objective and above the fray but their actual material betrays biases every single day. And these biases would be far more obvious to everyone if they had to fully disclose the positions of/backgrounds of/contexts of their sources and guests.

  • Sierra

    Drudge Report is a blog and it is one of the most popular and unbiased sources of news. Media companies get their info from Reuters and simply repackage it on daily basis, so who’s kidding whom?

  • http://morganservice.net Don Morgan

    MSM should have their feet held to the fire.

  • http://members.cox.net/auriette Auriette

    Sierra mentioned the Drudge Report as a highly respected blog that offers solid journalism. I follow a lot of the mommy blogs because I like entering their giveaways. On the whole, even before the new rules, if they were reviewing a product that was given to them by the manufacturer, they’d say that. Now they’re required to post a specific disclaimer, disclosing what they received (be it cash, trip, product, whatever).

    MSM ought to have to say, too, that they got a free copy of movie on DVD to review, that they were provided with a signed copy of a book, that they were given a new product to try. Fair is fair.

    I worked for seven years as a TV news producer. I didn’t come from a background in journalism; I just kind of fell into the job. Part of my job was writing short (25-30 second long scripts) based on AP wire copy and the scripts provided by CNN and ABC. We subscribed to the services to use their material. I can’t tell you how many times I questioned something in the Broadcast Wire story, went to the internet and found the complete original story from whatever newspaper filed the report, and discovered that during the cut-and-paste something important got left out or the way it was cut changed the meaning of a certain line. Most people took that wire copy as gospel and never went any further. Did doing the research make my job tougher? Heck yeah. There were many times I didn’t take a dinner break and a few times I was still writing stories when the show started, but I took pride in my work. I knew people (our viewers) were expecting me to get it right. Nowadays, a lot of reporters, editors, and producers don’t seem to have that commitment. MSM, like a lot of companies, are cutting back on staff, so the remaining employees have more to do and no more time to do it in. Just like the cashier at the mall who’s too busy taking a personal phone call to wait on customers, I think sometimes they just don’t care, either.

    Anyway, people aren’t reading traditional newspapers anymore because in many cases, it’s just regurgitated wire copy, badly spelled, and without enough care for reporting the facts. Newspapers only survived against television because TV couldn’t (and still can’t) do the kind of in-depth reporting that talented print journalists did regularly. Now, people turn to the internet for breaking news. Even if a television network is giving a lot of time to a particular story, even 24-hour-coverage, there’s still no guarantee that they’re checking all their facts, because they’re racing to be the first to report the story. As “Guest” posted above, the so-called experts interviewed are often as unbiased as the news channel itself.

    I’m really getting disgusted with the news media. I left the business three years ago, and sometimes I miss the excitement of breaking news, but most of the time I’m so ashamed by the product that’s being put on the air, I’m glad to be out of it.

    But we were talking about blogs, weren’t we? From Drudge Report to mommy blogs to my own personal blog, there are many different categories of blog. It’s hard to lump them all together and harder still to hold them all to a standard higher than that of the mainstream media, just because the MSM has their feet to the fire.

  • http://users.chariot.net.au/~posture Max Banfield

    I have written some items which are relevant to the topic of information being transferred from one place to another without being properly, or honestly sourced.

    In particular, I was giving information to Wikipedia for free on one topic page, and two editors were telling me it was rubbish and deleting it, and I later found that very similar information had been placed on other pages by anonymous or other editors in roughly the same time frame, sometimes within hours or days.

    see here

  • John(GW)

    Whoever we are, we should all credit sources.
    1 Honesty demands it. Give credit to whom it is due. That earns us respect in turn, shows that we are not plagiarists or thieves.
    2 Unless we have done the basic research ourselves, crediting the sources authenticates (or discredits) what we are stating. Note that most hoaxes do not credit sources (some hoaxers falsely credit sources, though). The comments above show how important it is to know where “information” is from.
    Failure to credit sources deserves only contempt.

  • http://hubpages.com/profile/dame+scribe Gin

    I think ‘journalists’ are ‘tied’ by their employer, some news agency whereas the independent blogger has no such restrictions and can opt for providing various points of view. On top of that, some news agencies are tied by gov’t. Over all, bloggers have more freedom if independent and not , as mentioned earlier, tied by sponsorship. Free thought and honesty to the public should be far more valuable than controlled information or hype. Great points to consider.

  • http://www.textpack.net Amar S Reddy

    Although the mainstream journalism/media industry don’t vouch for bloggers, its a fact that they feel they are the ultimate authority when it comes to reporting news & views. & whoever game them this authority god only knows. Bloggers are a new reporting segment that has come into being after the advent of technologies supporting the free publication of news & views on the net by blogs, microblogs, video, etc. The fact is bloggers are seen as a threat to the mainline reporters & publications. They are viewed as a sect of reporters who don’t have to be authorized & approved by anyone, unlike them, the mainline media industry pros. Its purely a case of going green with envy given that bloggers are there with a no-hold-bared freedom to write, report & express themselves

  • http://www.lexolution.in/blog Maneet

    No matter what the game.. Content will still rule. It will be what determines the fate of your online endeavors.

  • maria

    main stream media is a corrupt vehicle for the progressives in this country. they have historically been left of left and their creedo is to destroy lives and disrupt nature’s law for profit.

    • http://www.stuffdone.com Stuff Done

      I take offense to the statement that main stream media is a corrupt vehicle for progressives. It is corrupt period. One only needs to hold their nose and watch/listen to Fox”news” to see how corrupt conservative media can be as well.

      It is not possible to point an accusing finger at the left without doing the same for the right. All media is corrupt to the extent their owners are and the WSJournal, Time as well as Fox are owned by one of the most right-wing-nuts of them all, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

      What has gone wrong with all news outlets? Greed and the pursuit of ratings led to the motto “If if bleeds it leads”. Since these organizations require the use of public airwaves I believe the FCC should, as a condition of granting a license to broadcast, require primary news slots of airtime cannot sell advertising space at all. That would help assure news is factual and not slanted or edited to garner ratings and money.

      You can’t trust ANY mainstream media for the full and honest unedited facts.

      • Chris Crum

        That’s why the crowd is necessary: balance. The more viewpoints that are available, the more a reader is able to take away from a story. I attended a session on this at SXSW. Mashable Founder Pete Cashmore made the point, “People need to become more educated consumers of news.” Aggregators can help with this.

  • Mrdelurk

    First people couldn’t read, so the church preached them the propaganda of the regime on Sundays. Next people learned to read so they started to get the same from the mainstream media. Before the line was “pay a racket to the mighty God” now it is “pay a racket to the mighty state”; same scam. Thomas Nast didn’t cartoon the newspaper as a house of presstitution for no reason.

    Today it’s the next evolution. Having learned to read, people are learning to think for themselves now. As a result, they are abandoning the MSM like the plague. I get all my news from www.whatreallyhappened.com instead of watching TV or reading the paper, too. The days of spouting regime propaganda for a living are over.

  • http://www.matthewloxton.com mloxton

    I think that the media should follow the same principles as academic research and quote references for every claim of fact or quotation made. The lack of referencing and attribution is symptomatic of a culture of sloppiness and pure laziness.

    The reporters are quite welcome to publish their own opinions just like anyone else, but nobody should be held free from the accepted norms of attribution when it comes to statements of fact or quotations.

  • http://privatsammlungen.net Adam An-tAthair-Siorai

    In my opinion newspapers, whether online or hardcopy, should be subjected to exactly the same rules as Bloggers. Sources should be credited in exactly the same way as differing writers are listed on an article, especially when a major proortion of the news comes from another source.

    My own experience highlights this: when called out many of the more serious publications will credit; the problem is finding the ‘stolen’ work in the first place. In my case a major TV news source took a complete article from one of my weblogs and published it without prior permission. There were no changes to the article whatsoever; a clear breach of copyright. Called out the company removed the article and paid a not insubstantial fee for the infringement of my copyright.

    Intellectual Property is harder to define, harder to protect. Where a Blogger has carried out all the research work and published the findings and opinion and this work is then taken as the basis for another piece, credit should be given for the intellectual property of that writer with at the very least a link back to the original article. This goes in both directions; major news media as much as Bloggers should be held to linking and the correct credit of sources.

    • http://users.chariot.net.au/~posture Max Banfield

      I have read some comments on this page with interest, and add the following links for anyone to consider. There is a saying when it comes to expressing ideas that may cause controversy – Just do it.
      A comment on mainstream material here

      and a comment on the deliberate attempts of some editors to falsify history here

  • http://www.acceleratorforsuccess.com Bill Covert

    Blogs offer so much to instant “news.” We have to remember that Blogs are gaining credibility… however, anyone can create a blog in less than 2 minutes. Given that – everyone on the planet has an opinion, and anyone can create a blog and be out there posting any data they choose.

    Mainstream media ought to be held to a higher standard. They should also credit blogs for supplying the news source (if that’s the case). They obviously both have their purposes – but I believe that mainstream media NEEDS to be held to a higher standard.

    The best blog in the personal development arena is http://www.acceleratorforsuccess.com/blog – however, it is not held to any standard, except for personal integrity. As time goes on, the credible news blogs will rise to the top.

  • http://www.coverallsale.com Terry

    These sources have to work together as this is the changing way of the new era.
    Blogs have their advantages of providing personal feelings and thoughts.

    The mainstream media can also be biased as to what sounds exciting and “newsworthy”.

    In my opinion people will take what they want to hear depending on their own personal opinions.
    This all good.

  • cassandravert

    Don’t be sucked in to dismissing bloggers. A blog is just a format for delivering content, like TV.

    Case 1: The 60 minutes interview of the man on the Deepwater Horizon when it blew up. The legwork for that story was done by an independent reporter who was not credited during the show. 60 minutes did give him credit online after he and others raised a fuss.

    Case 2: A blogger spent weeks investigating the RNC, following money trails and aliases. One of them showed a very clear connection to a tea party group. Another more prominent blogger then came in and got the “smoking gun” documents and got credit for breaking the story nationally on MSNBC. MSNBC gave due credit to the second blogger, but the second blogger did not credit the first blogger for pointing the way to the key evidence and even that there was a story in the first place.

    First, we should all be happy that investigative journalism did not go away when people like Rupert Murdoch cut off its funding. The evolution of investigative journalism is creating these chains of information, from bloggers with thousands of followers to national tv and internet sites with millions of viewers.

    Investigative bloggers need credibility to keep doing what they are doing, and since national news venues need the legwork that bloggers do, it is in the interest of everybody to give credit where credit is due. And yes, there ought to be a (better) law.

  • Kerry

    Lets get to the crux of it Plagiarism is not OK. If you are writing then you must always apply the unspoken rule of quoting references. Give credit to those you quote or ideas you have used. It is OK to interpret someone’s idea (s) but you should always have the courtesy in acknowledging where the information is from.

    Whether you are a blogger or a journalist – it does not matter so whoever writes and uses other’s concepts – always acknowledge your sources.

  • http://www.advertisingmiami.com/blog/ Mike Poller

    Is there really any difference when a MSM reporter overhears a tip in a crowded diner than when that same reporter finds the same bit of info on Twitter or my blog? Is the MSM reporter required to divulge that he/she heard the tip over lunch?

  • http://www.designfloat.com/Promos/Play-like-a-pro-using-these-Free-Basketball-Drills Adrien Newmark

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