Lots of bloggers and online reporters have experienced this at one time or another. We’ve certainly had it happen to us here at WebProNews more than a few times. You break a story, then it’s all over the web, but you don’t get the credit.
Or maybe it’s not as dramatic as that. Maybe you cover an event that others are covering simultaneously, but later coverage uses a particular spin, image, or assessment that was unique to yours until that later piece, but no credit is given. Sure, there is the occasional coincidental instance, but often that is clearly not the case. It happens all the time on the web. We can whine about it, or we can carry on with our lives. We usually go the latter route.
Mainstream news publications have pointed the finger at "bloggers" many times in the past, claiming that they are "stealing" their content, but as Search Engine Land Editor-in-Chief Danny Sullivan illustrates in a post on his personal blog Daggle, it goes both ways. We spoke with him about how the "traditional media" engages in some of the same practices it has accused blogs of engaging in.
For all intents and purposes, Search Engine Land is a blog. While to many of us, blogs can be considered just as reputable (if not more so) than mainstream news outlets, the site is generally looked upon as a blog (Google News, for example, has it listed as such). If you ask me, the lines between blogs and other news sources are anything but black and white, but some traditional media agencies clearly look down upon blogs. Internally, maybe it’s a different story.
This past Friday, Sullivan posted an article about a Utah woman suing Google after getting hit by a vehicle while following walking directions on Google Maps. According to Sullivan, nobody had written about this until he did, and his source was a tip from Gary Price of ResourceShelf). Then after his post had been live for a while, more publications began to report the news, and some as if they had broken it themselves. Some even went so far as to include Danny’s own modified screenshots, or the Scribd document of the lawsuit that he had uploaded, but without linking to Danny’s article or acknowledging that these materials came from this to begin with.
Some of these publications likely got a great deal of traffic from aggregators that picked up their stories as well. Traffic that could have sent more to Search Engine Land. It’s not that it isn’t fine for these publications to get picked up by the aggregators and get some traffic of their own, but if they had linked back to the original source, they could’ve sent some of that same traffic back where it belonged as well. For example, Drudge Report linked to a NYDailyNews.com article, which linked to AOL News, which as Sullivan points out, just links to the Scribd document.
As I said, this kind of thing happens all the time on the web, and it’s pretty much unavoidable, as long as you are creating content and sharing it with people. Danny’s rant about the subject, which is quite interesting, is less a whining session, and more finger pointing at "traditional" media hypocrisy.
"I’d like to see a lot less finger-pointing and much more acknowledgment that the origin of news is a messy business," says Sullivan in his post. "So why point fingers in this case? To help keep things even. I think it’s very well known how traditional sources get cited by alternative ones. But while the opposite is true, that’s a story that’s rarely illustrated."
We asked Danny how greatly the public’s perception is skewed when it comes to where news stories originate. "I think the public has no idea where news comes from, but to the degree they think about it, they assume big outlets have reporters that hunt it all down," Sullivan tells WebProNews.
He does have experience working in traditional media. Sullivan says he worked for daily newspapers for about five years, and that he was trained to cite any fact that wasn’t commonly known. "If the fact only could come from a rival publication, then my job was to try and independently source the fact, so you didn’t have to mention the competition," he tells us.
Do readers generally care about the sources of information as long as they don’t have reason to question accuracy? "I think readers don’t care about sourcing but instead put trust in the publication itself," he says.
You have to wonder if there isn’t a larger percentage of stories being lifted from blogs, Twitter, etc. by mainstream media outlets without credit than there are being lifted from traditional sources by bloggers without credit. While it is certainly not always the case, bloggers are traditionally not shy about linking.
In fact, Sullivan touches on this in the comments of his post: "Bloggers tend to cite mainstream sources more than those sources cite bloggers, that’s my gut feel. It’s something I hope begins to change."
The AP has famously expressed disdain with blogs in the past (ones that quoted AP stories and gave credit), and the AP example (as one of many) that Danny displays certainly stands out, representing the other side of things.
"I think a substantial amount of news is coming off tips seen on forums, blog posts and elsewhere on the web," he tells us, when asked how often he thinks mainstream media outlets are taking stories from bloggers, Twitterers, etc. without acknowledging the sources. "Not a majority. But a noticeable amount, I’d wager."
What do you think?
I’ve contacted some of the publications Danny calls out in his post for comment, but have yet to receive a response. He did get a couple apologies in his comments section though.
Should traditional media be held to different standards than those publications they think bloggers should be held to? Share your thoughts.