Taking Sides: Me vs. A Journalist

My cousin happens to be a really brilliant and talented writer working out in the Western U.S. Amanda Keim is a journalist, working for the East Valley Tribune in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, and we both grew up together in the Valley throughout high school and scarring family road trips. Well, given that I’m the digital PR guy and the one always mocking traditional media, it’s always nice to have a foil around like a reporter for a cousin.

This afternoon, we got into it via IM about the recent brouhaha between a Washington Post reporter and the media/celebrity/culture blog, Gawker.

The short version of the flap: Ian Shapira pens an article for WaPo about a woman who reaches out to old school business-folks to teach them about relating to younger generations. Gawker grabs the article, mocks it fittingly through a couple excerpts, and lets it hit the blogosphere running. Shapria, ecstatic about getting a hit of this magnitude, starts e-mailing it around. And then his editor questioned why he was so happy that he was giving away revenue to a blog that “stole” his work.

There have been commentaries on this, and I’ve had it linked from my profile all day. Not surprisingly, Amanda and I had differing opinions. With her permission, I’ve reprinted some key statements from each of us in a new series I’m calling, “Taking Sides.” Today’s edition: Me vs. a Journalist. Note, this is original in argument, but I have edited these for punctuation and grammar to be a little cleaner than IM talk.

AK: I thought he brought up some good points, even if he didn’t offer good solutions. I don’t think most people understand how much time goes into writing a news story.

DL: My issue is how he got upset about it. He was definitely bragging to his editor about the Gawker pickup, and then his editor was like, “Hey there slugger.”

AK:You mean how he was happy until the editor said something?

DL:Yep. He changed his tune quickly. And this line is ridiculous: “And if bloggers want to excerpt at length, a fee would be the nice, ethical gesture.”

AK:Well, the problem is, that’s the trouble newsrooms are facing. You’ve got a bunch of people whose only job has been going after news stories, who have been taught that it’s unethical to have any contact with the business side. The writers have appreciated exposure for their stories, but in the past, the only place you could get that full story would be in your own publication (unless the AP or another wire service picked it up, then it might end up on the radio or in another publication tomorrow).

Now, the business side hasn’t innovated and a bunch of journalists are losing their jobs, so these people who haven’t had anything to do with the business side are suddenly trying to figure out business in addition to this web thing they’ve ignored for 10 years. People are angry, some interesting experiments are being tried, but mostly it’s older editors and publishers who are intrigued by new ideas but too afraid to try something someone else hasn’t done. The writers are getting frustrated and scared because our friends are getting laid off, our salaries are getting cut, there aren’t other jobs out there to get and most news organizations haven’t figured out how to make money. Then you see someone paraphrase your work on another Web site without doing their own news gathering and know that the hits (and therefore money) that could be coming to your employer are going to this other site that isn’t paying to gather news, but has figured out online branding. You know the only reason they can do it is someone else is paying you to do the work.

DL: Why did the journalist write the story? That’s my question. Did he write it to generate ad revenue for his organization? Or did he write it to add a new idea and supplement further reporting with the hopes that people talk about it? Is he a newspaper ad salesman? No, he’s a reporter. And he knew that until he got yelled at for being happy about a hit somewhere. Being afraid of links and building walls is what will continue to sink the newspaper industry.

AK:But see, you just hit on the problem: The reporter wrote the story to add to the conversation and had the appropriate response. But then he got hit with the financial reality that the people in charge of making sure he’ll continue being paid to do that haven’t figured out how to make money, which is a question journalists have been starting to ask more and more as the business side hasn’t innovated. [Allow me to hedge upon rereading this exchange: Ultimatums are dangerous and rarely true. There have been some people trying new things with the business model and news sites, especially in the past year or two, but by and large traditional newspapers haven’t kept up with new business models or online trends for delivering news. -AK]

So he’s paid to do one thing, but reality is then making him worry about something else he isn’t supposed to worry about in an ideal world. I’m all for links. But yes, the guy at Gawker did copy him. So what if the link’s at the bottom of the page? He took the story, rewrote it without going out to get his own information and, if someone gets all the way through the lazy piece, they might click on the link to the original material.

DL: See, it’s not about the credit and journalism, then. it’s just the business model, like you were saying. It is completely clear that the Gawker guy didn’t write it.

AK: Exactly. But since no one who’s supposed to worry about the business model has done anything about the business model, a bunch of writers who are fearing for their jobs are suddenly trying to learn business 101 and come up with something.

And so ends this round of going back and forth. Please feel free to add in any more thoughts – trust me, I’m still really interested in this issue.


One Comment on “Taking Sides: Me vs. A Journalist”

  1. […] Not to mention, it’s also the employer of one of my cousins and closest family members (the ying to my new media yang). Moment of silence, for the East Valley […]

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