How much attribution is sufficient when posting information from a news organization onto another Web site or blog?
That question, as the news and opinion blog Mediaite reported, has been the subject of a disagreement and now legal action between Sharon Waxman, CEO and founder of The Wrap, a Web site that covers Hollywood, and Michael Wolff, founder of Newser, a news summary Web site.
Waxman informed StinkyJournalism by email that The Wrap is sending a cease and desist letter to Newser.
She wrote, “We are sending a cease and desist letter to Newser to keep them from using our content. If they ignore it, we will then have to assess our next step.”
Waxman wrote, “We are seeking normal attribution and linkage as is generally practiced on the web, which Newser purports to follow but in fact does not. So, yes, a link within the rewrite article, and credit.” But, Newser’s Wolff wrote to StinkyJournalism that “We credit the original source in the rollover box on the home, in the summary itself, and in the source box next to the item — three separate credits in all.”
Jack Shafer wrote on Slate April 5 that “It’s hard to take Michael Wolff’s side in any dispute, but that shouldn’t automatically cloud our judgment.” Shafer called Wolff a host, not a parasite, and noted that “the limited success of his site” indicates that condensed stories have value.
The ultimate question remains: Does Waxman’s model of journalism – with longer stories and original reporting – need Wolff’s two paragraphs condensed model to introduce her story topics and direct readers to her site for more information? Wolff’s model certainly depends upon Waxman’s original reporting, or else his site can’t produce so many brief stories every day.
Regardless, attribution is key. Is Waxman’s site getting enough credit from Wolff’s site’s postings of their original work?
According to Mediaite, which created a timeline of the back and forth between the two sides, Newser posted a summary of a piece on March 29 that was originally reported by The Wrap the day before. This initiated a Twitter exchange, with Waxman tweeting on March 29,
“jesus christ, will michael wolff at newser stop stealing our stories? kinda fed up with this, michael. no links, no attribution. whaaaa????” and
“really? I’d like you to remove all wrap content from newser. Including and especially you ‘wrap page.’”
And two tweets back from Wolff on April 5:
“If Sharon Waxman can’t stand the heat, she she (sic) should get out of the kitchen,” and
“What’s more @sharonwaxman is a ghastly writer.”
The two both posted columns on their respective Web sites, as well as Newser’s two-paragraph report on April 3 that Waxman had complained about Newser.
In Waxman’s April 1 column, she wrote that Newser acts as a parasite, and that Newser hadn’t given The Wrap sufficient attribution or prominent link placement in articles it summarized from her organization. Waxman wrote that Newser’s links to The Wrap directed only 1,600 users in 14 months, whereas other news aggregators like Drudge Report and Huffington Post send many more. Waxman wrote that “one Drudge link can commonly send a site 50,000 users.”
Wolff wrote back in an April 5 column that “the facts are the facts—resorted, rewritten, republished as soon as they are known. The value is the style and efficiency with which they are presented.”
In an e-mail to StinkyJournalism, Wolff wrote “We do not believe we are undermining anyone’s business — so no need to compromise and nothing to compromise about.”
Waxman’s The Wrap features original reporting on the entertainment and media business. Newser is an aggregator that posts stories that are two paragraphs or shorter. Wolff wrote in an e-mail to StinkyJournalism, “all of our summaries or headlines are original — we do not use material on our site copyrighted by others. All of our photos are licensed.”
Meanwhile, Henry Blodget, over at Business Insider wonders if Wolff is just provoking media outlets as a an effective publicity stunt? Read “WSJ Editor Calls Newser A “Tapeworm,” Newser’s Michael Wolff Overjoyed.”
Blodget writes: “Michael Wolff’s Newser keeps jabbing traditional media properties with a stick, hoping that they’ll eventually be dumb enough to drive millions of readers to the site by responding. And, so far, they have been! ”
He continues, “Michael snookered the New York Times into threatening to sue him a couple of weeks ago. And now he’s tricked Robert Thomson, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, into calling Newser a ‘tapeworm.’ ” Wolff followed up WSJ’s comment with a Newser story headline, “The Wall Street Journal Is Really, Really Mad at Us.”
Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab reported August 21, 2009 that Newser’s traffic fell “off a cliff.” They wrote, “Newser’s traffic has tumbled since peaking at 1.6 million people in May. It now stands at 546,000 monthly visitors, according to Quantcast, well behind other news aggregators with which it’s frequently lumped, including: The Huffington Post (13.2 million), Topix (9.3 million), and Mahalo (8.2 million).”
StinkyJournalism tried today to check Newser’s traffic stats on Quantcast to see if Newser’s traffic has improved or dropped more since Nieman’s 2009 report, but curiously, their traffic data is now blocked [!] by Newser. A Quantcast search of Newser states: “Traffic data has been hidden by the owner.” Hmmm.
UPDATE: 04/11/10 7:20 PM EST: Waxman and Wolff debated on CNN this morning. Footage is available here.