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In Our Own Voices: Getting it Right While Blogging

 

 Once there was a post by Simon Dumenco called, "Poor Steve Jobs Had to Go Head to Head With Weinergate in the Twitter Buzzstakes. And the Weiner Is ...."  It appeared online on June 8.  The next day The Huffington Post published a piece by Amy Lee called, "Anthony Weiner vs. Steve Jobs: Who Won On Twitter?".  The thrust of the Lee article was the same as that of Dumenco's.  In fact, nearly the entire article consisted of quotes from Dumenco's piece.  There was a link at the end, but, as Simon Dumenco saw it, why bother?  Everything that needed to be said was already in Amy Lee's piece.  No need to go off-site to read the rest.  There was no "rest".  (The clicked links from the HuffPo piece to his own numbered a mere 57 -- a pitiful number, considering the source.)

That was bad, and HuffPo's Executive Business Editor Peter Goodman promptly apologized, but there are stirrings out there that this isn't the odd blog out over at Arianna's place.  HuffPo has done this many times before.  Former NYT editor Bill Keller wrote about it in the NYT magazine last March:
 

“Aggregation” can mean smart people sharing their reading lists, plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe. It kind of describes what I do as an editor. But too often it amounts to taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material. In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model.


The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come. How great is Huffington’s instinctive genius for aggregation? I once sat beside her on a panel in Los Angeles (on — what else? — The Future of Journalism). I had come prepared with a couple of memorized riffs on media topics, which I duly presented. Afterward we sat down for a joint interview with a local reporter. A moment later I heard one of my riffs issuing verbatim from the mouth of Ms. Huffington. I felt so . . . aggregated.

 

Oooo.   Ouch!  I confess I've heard the word "aggregate" bandied about before but didn't really understand how it might actually apply to a lowly blogger like me.  Now, with the brouhaha over HuffPo's publication of a post composed almost entirely of paragraphs from someone else's article, I've been thinking about what blogs like mine -- where other voices are prominent, where links are leading everywhere, where not all of the content is original to me -- might actually fit in with journalistic ethics and rules, even though, in the end, as chief writer/editor/publisher, I'm pretty much free to do almost anything I want on my own pages.

What is my obligation as a blogger?  Mine is a political blog, not a personal one, and I've known from the start that if I want my blog to be taken seriously (even though I'm fishing for smiles now and then) I have to be mindful of what I'm putting out there.  I know when I link to and/or quote someone else's work, it's not mine to mess with.  I can't change the words, change the meaning, put it on my page without attribution, or -- perish the thought -- print the entire piece.  It doesn't belong to me.  (I suspect in some cases I should get permission to use them, but I rarely do. I figure as long as I'm using a paragraph or two and as long as I tell where it came from,  preferably with a link, I should be okay.  I could be horribly wrong about that, too.)

So, okay.  That's bad enough.  But what about when we grab something from another site or via the social networks that looks legitimate, seems plausible, but turns out to be all wrong, and we've passed it on?  We part-time, unpaid opinion bloggers already have to work hard at overcoming our dillettante reputation.  It doesn't help when the facts go by the wayside in order to get to the clever, hopefully brilliant observations we all want to be singled out and known for.
 


On Poynter I found an article that answers some of the questions about what to look for in order to verify a piece you want to share or quote.  (It's written for journalists, but I personally think political bloggers have the same obligations to their readers.)  It specifically zeroes in on social networks like Twitter or Facebook, where I admit I spend a good amount of time scouring the snippets for leads to stories that might interest me enough to write about.  I also admit I'm astounded by how much misinformation there is in just those two places.

From Jeff Sonderman's Poynter piece (relevant to what I'm talking about here) :

Evaluating Credibility:
Consider the social history of the source. Has this person been on the network for years, or is this a brand-new account with no profile photo, friends or history? Has the person regularly posted information that was credible? In the rare case that someone deliberately tries to spread false information, it will probably be from a newly created or fictitious account, not from a social profile someone spent years building up.

Seek social corroboration. Are other social network users posting similar, independent reports from the same location? If a tornado really touched down in a city of 8 million people, for example,  there ought to be more than one photo of it. Be sure to look for other primary-source reports, not just retweets or messages based on the account you already have.


 Without naming names or even going into the entire story, I read on FB the other day that a famous news person I really admire had been canned.  I was pretty sure it didn't actually happen, and when I looked at the provided link, it clearly showed that the startling new information was in a piece written over a year ago and published by The Onion!

That's why I wrote this, in fact. That sort of thing doesn't go unnoticed.  Sometimes it grows wings and flies.  I love blogging and I'm all for encouraging more of it.  I just want us to get it right.
*
*Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices.

Nice piece, Ramona, and I'm all for bringing journalism ethics to blogging, but I caution that there are some other dynamics going on here. The NYT and HuffPo are engaged in a battle royal for readership. I'm sympathetic to the Times' interest in protecting original reporting, but I believe that the editors want to roll back time to an era that's time has past.  If Bill Keller had his way, we would all read digital newspapers--one news source per person unless you're willing to pony up for multiple subscriptions, which means no aggregation and no link sharing. I just put up a link to the NYT in the news section knowing that many people won't read it because they're running out of clicks through the Times paywall.

While Huffpo's treatment of the Dumenco piece is inexcusable, the way Huffpo normally aggregates is the same way we aggregate in the links sections--a paragraph or two followed by a link to the articles, which basically forces people to click through if they're interested in the piece. I think it's a fair way to share, and it drives traffic to the news sources, few of which have any hope of attracting subscribers like the NYT.

PS In the interest of evaluating credibility, I point you to Ariana's rebuttal to Keller's piece. His piece, incidentally, was excoriated from all sides for pomposity, poor taste, and general assholeness.

Yes, I think the ongoing battle between Keller and Arianna is talked about in one of the links here.  Also the fact that HuffPo has been pulling people away from the NYT. 

From what I'm gathering, using other writers' works with little regard for the source of their efforts is not anything new at HuffPo.  Joe Coscarelli mentioned it in an article he wrote in the Village Voice in January (an interesting article in and of itself.  About who came up with the idea for HuffPo.  Arianna apparently won that round) :

To make matters worse, if to dive a bit into insider's waters, much of the information on The Huffington Post -- namely the so-called aggregation -- is "repackaged" in a way that rids the information from its initial ties to a primary source (a journalist, maybe) and makes HuffPo the one-stop shop for all internet information, original idea owners be damned. In other words, even when the work isn't done by their unpaid writers, The Huffington Post makes it like look like it was. They are notoriously stingy participants in the link economy.

Simon Dumenco wrote a nasty piece about Arianna in AdAge more than two years ago.  He clearly doesn't like her brand of journalism, or "bloggism", or whatever you want to call it.  So it's even more egregious that someone on HuffPo cadged his entire work.  Of all people.  Man, that's sloppy.

Most of the folks arguing against Arianna complain first about the fact that she's getting rich beyond her wildest dreams from her Huffington Post empire and still doesn't see the need to pay more than a privileged handful of her writers.  I've been reading that with interest, as well, because I do believe that writers should be paid for their work when they're working for people who can well afford it.  (So, unless I find out otherwise, Genghis, that lets you off the hook.)

I tell you what. Let's split the profits. Please send me a check for $217.49, for your share of our operating losses for 2011. ;)

 

Whoa, wait a minute!  I don't remember reading anything about that in my contract!

Thanks for the information on the pay wall.  I was wondering about an article that I had stumbled across in The Nation and was blocked from reading it again.  I find Huffpo tedious at times.  

 

Magazines tend to have various rules for what they put behind a paywall. I'm not sure what The Nation's is.

What I would like to see, honestly, is for a bunch of media companies to get together behind a single subscription paywall. That way, everyone gets paid, but readers don't have to choose between the NYT and The Nation when they only read a fraction of the articles anyway.

"bunch of media companies to get together behind a single subscription paywall" That was Murdoch's plan, after he buys them all.

The only problem is Murdoch doesn't have any real reporters, just blathering ideologues.  Of course, few would notice the lack of on the ground reporters or facts. AOL used to have some good articles before Huffington took over, there is frankly nothing on Huffington I ever found worth a damn. I can also forgo the hour by hour twitterbuzz graphs, weiner stories, and any quote at all from a Republican.

Of course I did a blog on paywalls...

I did go ahead and order the Sunday NYT which gives me kind of full access to its site. Fifteen bucks a month aint bad.

But Variety and number of other 'real' publications want money from me and I aint got it.

I can get though to all of my State's Newspapers and I have not had that bad an experience with LA or Chicago...

Comparison shopping is the best i can do. I mean I check Huffpo and the Beast and Salon and TPM first to get a feel for whats 'in the news' but if I wish to blog something I am usually going to look for an in depth link referred to in those links.

Sometimes I am surprised. If Huffpo is really worth hundreds of millions of dollars why is 80% of their stuff merely fluff with a paragraph or two. But I am guessing that 10-20% of Huffpo's links are inaccessible. Not because of paywalls but because of a mistake made when the article was published. Might as well stick with Real Politics that can give me 100 links to a hundred different subjects all on one page.

Now Mediamatters has an agenda, an agenda I like and I usually check with it if I find some repub or Fox quote  that seems incredible. And I can usually tap into some tape there.

And to triple check I will google and see if I missed something.

Which brings me to your blog.

Usually, there are not a hundred comments to a blog here. And usually I can get some response from the writer.

And I get links here I did not find at the huge sites.

I mean Donal will give us something about cars or energy that I do not see at the bigger more corporate sites.

So besides the political anger you find here, there is some specialization. There are people with specific interests who spent some time researching a specific issue and I actually learn something.

Sorry, I am meandering again.

The end

I feel positively illiterate.  I've never once hit the NYT's paywall.  As you said, there are so many sources for news stories and commentary (including, ahem, my blog sidebar) I don't really feel the need to go to the Times every day.  Someone is always quoting from them and I can link from someone else's page, which doesn't count against me.

Richard, I know you are thorough in your research, and it shows in your blog posts, all of which are full of remarkable esoterica (that's not a put-down, it's a compliment.  I take it to mean "things I didn't know about", which in my case covers a wide range) rendered in such a fun way I find myself reading about things I never knew I was even interested in.

So you, my friend, are exempt from any remarks I might have made about bloggers who maybe aren't paying attention.  You surely do, and then some.

A timely topic.  

Ongo: Aggregation So Good, You'll Pay for It. (Maybe.)  via @forbes

With so much 'content' available online there is bound to be more and more demand for aggregators or some other sort of filter to weed out the worst of the worst.  The ability to add intelligent and/or knowledgeable commentary to useful and reliable information will only enhance their worth.  I hope to find one such someday soon. :-D

Inevitably there will be more and more disputes between original sources and aggregators, especially when the original is heavily excerpted.  Even more so if also deconstructed.  My preference is that these be resolved case by case rather than by trying to develop a hard and fast rule.  I read through your links on the Dumenco / Lee dispute and still do not feel like there is enough information available to warrant picking a side.

Dumenco shares stats on his own page views driven from Techmeme and Lee's Huffpo article and seems to feel he should have gotten many more from Huffpo given its greater traffic.  My question is does he know how many views Lee's article itself got before he gave it a bump by getting Ms. Lee fired?   It may be true that Huffpo overall has more traffic than Techmeme but are tech savvy readers interested in all things Steve Jobs related more likely to follow a link from one of FlhuffPo's tech editors or Techmeme?

Also, did Ms. Lee make a habit of unprofessional borrowing because being canned suspended for one disputed article seems a bit of overreaction.  Of course, it was a dispute with AdAge and since Huffpo earns its money from ads ....

 

I don't know, I thought there was plenty of info to pick a side.  Lee "wrote" an entire piece using nearly every paragraph of another writer's work.  That's a pure no-no and she deserved to be called out. 

The page views weren't really the issue,  just what I thought was an interesting aside. I'm not in the least tech-savvy, but on my own blog I think I can see when my blog posts are linked from another site.  I assumed that he was talking about checking the link movement right after Lee's article was posted, but I could be wrong.

I don't know if Lee had done other things like this, but I think a suspension rather than an actual firing would be in order if this was actually her first offense.

But my point in beginning with that story was that even the biggies get caught doing pretty amateurish things.  We have to be better than that.  :)

 

We probably should not be on the same juries. :-D

 

FWIW, my original link somehow compromised my twitter account so I changed it.  Also had to change my twitter password in the process.  Do not think it was anything malicious.  Just some features between sites that conflicted.   I am thinking it was something to do with the Forbes ad at the link.

Sincerely hope no one else was affected.

 

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