Poaching from Blogs: How some Journalists find their Stories

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Miss Heather, who runs the blog NewYorkShitty.com, has seen many of her blog posts regenerated as mainstream media articles without being credited for her work.

Last week, we wrote about the New York Post poaching a story from a blog called NewYorkShitty.com and not crediting the blog writer, named Miss Heather, for her scoop.

We spoke with Miss Heather about the Post’s statement regarding their crediting policy, “THE NY POST CREDITS BLOGS, BLOGGERS AND OTHER MEDIA ALL THE TIME, AS OUR READERS KNOW” (emphasis theirs). She said, “That may be their practice on paper, but that’s not their statement in reality.”

As we wrote last week, Miss Heather received a comment on her blog from the New York Post reporter, Alex Ginsberg, who used the leg-work of her story as the basis for his Post story. In his comment, he wrote, “Post policy prevented me from crediting you in print. Allow me to do so now. You did a fantastic reporting job. All I had to do was follow your steps (and make a few extra phone calls).” Ginsberg’s statement stunned Miss Heather. “This is the first time they’ve admitted to taking my work,” she said.

We have asked the newspaper’s spokesperson whether the Post plans on issuing an apology and correction, as Mr. Ginsberg clearly admitted to using Miss Heather’s story as the foundation of his own. We have not received any further comments from the Post‘s editors.

In the meantime, Miss Heather has sent us a slew of prior instances where a post on her blog has been followed by an article in a mainstream media source. Not all of Miss Heather’s accusations are as clear-cut as the Post’s “Gym Rat Back in Biz” article featured in our previous coverage, but they circle around the same issue: While it’s generally accepted that blogs feed off the mainstream news, there isn’t much discussion about the reverse process, mainstream news getting story ideas and tips from blogs. By detailing the instances where Miss Heather feels her blog has sparked subsequent stories in mainstream news sources, we hope to shed light on this issue and hold accountable writers and reporters who benefit from the diligent bloggers who feed them a steady stream of local news.

Whether or not all of these cases are instances of direct poaching, they point to a trend in which established, traditional-media reporters comb through blogs for story ideas. In some instances, the reporters use a blog posting as a jumping-off point for further, more extensive reporting and research. In others, they seem to be using the blog post (and comments) as the foundation and framework of a subsequent news article, frequently failing to credit the source that guided their reporting.

Case #1
May 4, 2009
Miss Heather posts about odd-looking graffiti in her neighborhood. As is her policy, Miss Heather gives credit to the reader who tipped her off about the graffiti and another blog covering the same topic. While Miss Heather doesn’t find translations for the graffiti, her commenters do. A reader registered as Seskow commented, “I’m sure others will have pointed this out by now, but both of these refer to a book by an Austrian mystic named Guido von List, according to Wikipedia. The book, Das Geheimnis der Runen (ie, the graffiti in the first picture) continues to influence and inspire neo-Nazis, from which they derive the phrase ‘Sal und Sig’ (the graffiti in the second photo) which I think means ‘Salvation and Victory.'”

May 7, 2009
In the comment thread on the NewYorkShitty.com graffiti post, a reader points Miss Heather to a New York Post article on the same topic.

The Post story, titled “B’KLYN LOONY RUNES” was written by John Doyle and Bill Sanderson. The Post reporters consulted an expert, who confirms the Guido von List connection noted by the commenters on Miss Heather’s post. But Miss Heather took issue with the newspaper heralding the story as an “Exclusive.” Her post had already been linked to (and credited) by Gothamist and Brownstoner. Hence calling the Post story an “Exclusive” is disingenuous.

Furthermore, when Post reporter John Doyle was contacted by a NewYorkShitty.com reader about the apparantly lifted story material, he responded in an email denying having seen the story on NewYorkShitty.com. He wrote, “I was unaware of this ‘New York Shitty’ article. Not something I read. I did notice some reference to the graffiti on the web, that is true but and I [sic] went to Greenpoint, I photographed the graffiti and I did my job, a bit of research and I, unlike ‘New York Shitty’ or anyone else, was able to find someone to translate it.” If Mr. Doyle noticed the graffiti on the web, it’s likely that he saw a post linking back to NewYorkShitty.com (as both Gothamist and Brownstoner sourced Miss Heather’s initial post). Additionally, the commenter on NewYorkShitty.com had correctly noted the origins of the script, attributing them to Guido von List.

Doyle concludes his email with this statement: “So next time New York Shitty, or any other web site than I am not aware of, lifts content of my work from the New York Post, I will be sure to write them a letter acusing [sic] them of plagerism [sic],” reinforcing the idea that it is in fact blogs who borrow content from mainstream sources.

Case #2
May 18, 2009
Miss Heather writes a post about people living next to McCarren Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn complaining about the noise of the Mr. Softee ice cream truck. The post generates responses both in support of and chiding those who are complaining about the noise. One commenter registered under the name sbnyc09 wrote, “I am a law student that is constantly forced to either leave my apartment or wear headphones because Mr. Softee is parked somewhere on the park and I can here [sic] him for hours, over and over again. It’s maddening and if you had ever had to deal with it when you were trying to do something productive or even just watch a movie, you would never dare to judge those of us that have to.”

May 19, 2009
After her post was picked up (and credited) on Gothamist, Curbed, and the Village Voice (which linked to NewYorkShitty.com but didn’t cite the blog or Miss Heather directly in the article’s content). Miss Heather receives a tip from one of her readers that New York Post reporters were poking around at McCarren Park, working on a story about ice cream truck noise complaints.

May 20, 2009
The New York Post runs an article titled “‘STOP!’ THEY ALL SCREAM” by Reuven Fenton and Rich Calder. In the story, the reporters talk to a Serena Blanchard, a 29-year-old law student who lives in the area and is a member of the community group opposed to the ice cream truck noise violations.

Case #3
October 6, 2008
Miss Heather writes a blog post about a totebag featuring landmarks of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods. The makers of the bag mislabled the Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 228 N. 12th Street as a mosque.

October 13, 2008
Reuven Fenton again follows Miss Heather’s coverage with an article in the New York Post titled, “BAG ‘MOSQUE’ GAG: CHURCH” about the totebag. He goes a step beyond Miss Heather’s coverage, getting comments and quotes from the makers of the totebag.

Like the instance we wrote about last week, many of the examples Miss Heather sent us point towards story lifting by the New York Post. In a phone interview, Miss Heather said that she doesn’t have a problem with journalists using her blog for story ideas, as long as she gets credit for finding and first covering the story. “I have had positive working relationships with journalists,” she said. When the Courier-Life operated a Greenpoint edition of the newspaper (which folded in March 2009), Miss Heather formed a working relationship with a reporter from the paper. “He and I would toss stuff back and forth,” she explained. “There was a story I really wanted to write about a slumlord here in the neighborhood, but I handed it over to him because I didn’t feel comfortable writing it.”

Miss Heather founded NewYorkShitty.com in April 2006 with the intention of using the site as a platform for different types of posts, including everything from reported stories to photography to personal musings. She spends a good amount of time finding material for the blog, walking around her neighborhood about three times a week for stretches of 2-5 hours. “I also receive a fair number of reader tips,” she said, which she always credits in the contents of a post. And that’s all she’s asking for in return. “It can be a positive, mutually beneficial relationship. It’s kind of depressing to be poached constantly…In the last year my blog has gained some traction, where it could carry some advertising. If that comes to pass, I’m going to be pretty angry if people continue poaching.”

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Poaching from Blogs: NYPost Re-reported, Gave No Credit to Blogger

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