What happens when a reporter working for a traditional news media publication finds a story on a blog? Does he or she attribute the story to the blogger? For writers working at The New York Post, it seems not.
It’s not unusual to hear old school/traditional/established/PAID reporters complaining that bloggers profit from their work.
The trope goes something like, “We do all the time-consuming, shoe-leather reporting, then bloggers reap the benefit of site hits by using our work as the substance of their posts.” And while it’s true that some blogs merely re-write stories in a punchier voice (others, like yours truly, try to add new analysis, commentary, or reporting), it’s also common practice in the blogosphere to link back to the original source. Traffic from the blog feeds traffic to the established media and everyone gets credit for their work.
On Wednesday, August 19, 2009, a writer for the blog NewYorkShitty.com reported on an illegal gym being operated by John Suarez in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (we learned about this story via Techdirt). The blog writer, who goes by the name Miss Heather, did the legwork of the story, digging up the Certificate of Occupancy (or lack thereof) on the building, as well as complaints and a Stop Work Order filed through the NYC Department of Buildings. In other words, Miss Heather was a reporter. If she worked for a traditional news media outlet rather than a blog, her story would have taken a different shape, but the work would have been essentially the same. In fact, Miss Heather’s story might have looked something like Amber Sutherland and Alex Ginsberg’s August 31, 2009 New York Post story titled “Gym Rat Back in Biz.” You can also view a screen shot of a portion of The Post story via NewYorkShitty.com .
Sutherland and Ginsberg’s article traces Miss Heather’s footsteps but gave no credit. The Post writers do integrate information into the article that isn’t in Miss Heather’s — specifically, the details of a court action brought against the Gym’s owner, Suarez, for a previous gym-membership scam. But that information was linked to in Miss Heather’s blog post, which makes it more of an issue of style conventions and format rather than content. Sutherland and Ginsberg also got a direct quote from Suarez, while Miss Heather did not.
But the crux of the story, that Suarez is operating a new gym illegally, is not attributed to Miss Heather or NewYorkShitty.com. The opening paragraph simply states, “A crooked gym owner who scammed hundreds of Brooklyn customers out of their money is back in business, even though he has been ordered never to operate a fitness facility, The Post has learned.” Learned from whom? The Post does not say.
Understandably, Miss Heather was peeved and contacted Ginsberg about the article. Ginsberg responded blaming the lack of citation on the newspaper’s policy. “Post policy prevented me from crediting you in print…I won’t discuss at length the policy of not crediting blogs (or anyone else). I’ll just briefly explain that as long as we can independently verify every bit of info, we don’t credit.” Ginsberg congratulates Miss Heather on a “fantastic reporting job” and concludes with the statement, “Looking forward to ‘amplifying’ more of your good work in the future.”
Miss Heather responded in a blog post with surprising equanimity. She writes that she sympathizes with the plight of young journalists who are paid little for their work and therefore need to produce a high volume of stories to make ends meet. What she doesn’t understand is why The New York Post would prevent writers from citing a source who scooped a story, even if that source happens to be a blog (Miss Heather notes that NewYorkShitty.com has a mirror site at a less offensive name called ThatGreenpointBlog.com, alleviating any concerns about profanity).
A policy like the one adopted by the New York Post isn’t just frustrating, it’s hypocritical and unethical. If old media employees want people to value the time, effort, and energy that goes into a reported story — and really, there is a lot of invisible work — they need to value the same work done by others, even if those people happen to write for a blog. And if a story has been scooped by another writer or publication, that source should be credited, regardless of whether it’s a blog, a twitter feed, or an old media establishment. Not to do so is misleading.
The policy alone would be enough to prompt questioning of the newspaper’s editors. But in recent stories, The Post has credited newspapers and blogs who first reported a story. (See September 14, 2009 “SUNY’s use of federal cash investigated” in which the paper cited the Albany Times Union, which had reported on the story earlier in the day. And in the September 11, 2009 article “Cops arrest ‘Vampire Diaries’ actress for disorderly conduct” the paper cited thesmokinggun.com as the original source of the story.)
We contacted The Post’s editors about the newspaper’s crediting policies. A spokesperson for the paper conveyed their comment through a public relations representative. The message we received was, “THE NY POST CREDITS BLOGS, BLOGGERS AND OTHER MEDIA ALL THE TIME, AS OUR READERS KNOW” (emphasis theirs). We responded by asking how Ginsberg’s interpretation of the policy fit into this response. The public relations representative said that the statement is the extent of the paper’s response.
We then asked if the newspaper, in light of Ginsberg’s admission that he used Miss Heather’s work without crediting her, would be issuing an apology and correction. There has been no response.
The spokesperson’s statement implies that it’s common practice to credit bloggers, which begs the question: Why not in the case of Miss Heather? Without a correction to Ginsberg’s story, The Post remains guilty of not crediting the source who scooped their story. We have also contacted Ginsberg and Miss Heather for comment. As of yet, there is no response from Ginsberg. Miss Heather should be replying shortly and we will update as we receive more information.
UPDATE: 09/17/09 12:13 P.M. EST : After speaking with Miss Heather, we have cleared up some details of the exchange between Miss Heather and Alex Ginsberg. Upon learning of The Post’s story and lack of credit, Miss Heather wrote a blog post expressing her feelings about the situation. Ginsberg responded through the comments section of that post. Miss Heather posted the email notification she received of his comment. We used that email for our illustration above.
We will post a report next week that will include Miss Heather’s new comments.