Yesterday I received an e-mail forward, the original sender a respected, recently bought-out Detroit columnist, announcing his new position with an internet startup that shall remain nameless. It’s not “hyperlocal” but it is zip code-targeted, and since I have my own startup with a similar model, of course I checked it out.
Hmm. Reuters, Reuters, Reuters, no local copy yet, more Reuters and oh look, here’s a story with a byline and dateline, followed by an abbreviation of the site name, which in my world signifies locally produced, original content. (By Cubby Reporter, COPENHAGEN (AP) — like that.) It’s a story out of Maryland and it’s locally sourced, tightly written and professionally presented. Which means it’s time to fire up the Google and, oh my, whaddaya know, it’s stolen.
Down to the last comma, it’s stolen. Only the byline is changed, which I’m sure would come as a surprise to the reporter who wore away his shoe leather getting it in his employer’s paper. So I checked out another story on the main page, also branded with a byline and the site’s name, and it’s stolen, too. From the Associated Press. So. E-mails to the thief and the victims, screen caps for all, and my work as Junior Journalism Detective is done, except for a small rant:
I AM SICK TO DEATH OF THIS SHIT. In my research yesterday, I found a few press releases about this startup, all crowing that they intended to pick up the pieces of the shattered newspaper business’ advertising base. “There’s a new paper boy in town,” was the money quote from the local contact, an ex-radio guy. Well, the new paper boy is delivering crap. Today’s front page has a story on swine flu with no fewer than four bylines, all with the site’s local-content signifier. Two are associated with various conspiracy websites and one runs an online “vaccine information center” that — I hope you are not surprised by this — opposes mandatory childhood vaccination. And that’s who’s writing about swine flu. (And yes, I suspect they don’t know they’re writing about swine flu for this particular website, but I only work on behalf of real journalists. They can enforce their own copyright, if they care to.)
I read some comments from a fellow print journalist the other day, speculating that this is really only the beginning of the end, that the next stable business model for legitimate journalism is at least a generation away, maybe two. In the interim, we’ve got a long walk through a dark forest to look forward to.
The proprietor of the thievin’ site replied to my e-mail yesterday, apologizing for this unfortunate incident, claiming it was the result of a dishonest “user:”
We get 100’s of articles submitted every day by users. We try and go through them and validate them but some slip through the cracks.
I used to think the low entry bar to journalism was a good thing. We’re not a profession; we’re barely even a craft. If you can tell a story to someone else, you can be a journalist. Come, join the marketplace of ideas. Now I’m not so sure.
I’m looking out at a chill rain, alas, and it feels very British, for some reason. The last few days, the temperature was in the 80s, with a strong, hot wind blasting out of the southwest, air imported from Texas or somewhere. It was enough to awaken all the flowers, push the last tulip open and make the weeping cherries weep. It’s times like this I look out the window at all this new green and think: I am so glad I don’t have pollen allergies. Imagine suffering through a winter like we just had, and then finally seeing spring arrive, only to greet it with? Suffering.
Not much bloggage today; you guys have already seen the 747-buzzing-New-York pictures, so no need for me to call attention to them here. But speaking of copyright, I have bookmarked the blog of the increasingly tiresome Lawrence Lessig, and it was through him that I found this NPR story on novelist Mark Helprin, who has stepped forward as spokesman for the pro-copyright argument. The story contains an excerpt from a book he’s recently published on the subject. If only we had a less windy spokesman:
At age fourteen, on a cheap three-speed Robin Hood bicycle that my father inexplicably (to me) provided as a replacement for a magnificent English touring cycle, the color of a Weimaraner, that I had left to rust in the rain, I set out on a trip across most of the country. A great deal happened in those months: I was not many miles away from Earnest Hemingway on a sunny July morning in Idaho at the instant of his death; in the lobby of an office building in Arizona, Barry Goldwater informed me that I was not permitted to carry the hunting knife that hung from my belt; and with what now seems like a remarkably small number of other visitors to Zion National Park, I listened to a park ranger’s radio as the Berlin Wall crisis unfolded. In regard to copyright, property, and decency, the pertinent incident occurred in a field in Iowa.
A crowdsourced rewrite of that paragraph could only improve it. At least I hope so.
OK, 10 a.m. cometh and I have lots of work today. Take it away, lovely readers.