News next: a journalism teacher's diary

November 28, 2010

If it’s on the web you can use it, can’t you?

When a student in my Neighborhood News class posted a story on the Hunts Point Express website, I was surprised by the quality of the accompanying photo. Then I looked at the credit. The photographer was one of The New York Times’ best.

“That’s stealing,” I wrote to her. “Photographs are copyrighted, and can’t just be lifted and used.”

She replied: “I thought that that was okay. Ive seen that done before as long as credit was given to the photographer.”

Well, we’ve all heard of people who rob banks or mug old ladies, too, but that doesn’t make theft okay. (more…)

September 4, 2010

Telling readers how you know what you know

Four or five years ago, while I was still editor of The Riverdale Press and before The Press had a website, I bumped into a reporter from a daily newspaper that shall remain nameless. He complained that The Press was so slow to go on-line. It made it so hard to steal its stories, he said.

When I responded that it didn’t seem to slow him down much, and mentioned several Press stories that had wound up in his paper without any mention of where they had first appeared, he responded smugly and seriously, “Hey, it’s all about serving the reader. As long as we get them the news, right?”

Slowly, times are changing, as news organizations face the fact that readers have so many sources of news, and have the ability to give search engines key words and ask them to push references to them into their mail boxes or rss feeds. Lift a fact, and you’re likely to find that readers will know it, and some may even ridicule you on-line.

What with the profusion of amateur and professional bloggers and newspaper and broadcast websites, editors are confronted with questions about just whom to credit and when. If you as a reporter get a cue from a blog but go on to turn a skeletal or incomplete or even inaccurate story into a rich, complete and meaningful report, do you credit that blogger? If so, where and how?

This fall, the Associated Press tried to answer questions like these with a new set of guidelines for credit and attribution. They’re worth reading and thinking about.

March 6, 2010

Stop, thief!

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 11:46 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Illustration by Johnny Grim available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

On Feb. 2, the Miami Herald published a story that began “The widow of slain Fort Lauderdale businessman Ben Novack Jr. — a suspect in his death — won control of his $10 million fortune Monday, despite relatives’ efforts to cut her off without a dime.”

The Novack marriage had been “tumultuous,” the story said, and to prove it, continued:

In 2002, Narcy Novack and two others tied Novack Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and removed money from his safe, according to the police report.

Later that same day, the Daily Beast, celebrity editor Tina Brown’s year-old e-zine, which claims a readership of nearly four million, published a story by its chief investigative reporter Gerald Posner, headlined “The Murder Mystery Rocking Miami.” It included this passage:

There is little doubt the Novacks had a volatile relationship. In 2002, 11 years into their marriage, Narcy and two others tied Ben Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and took money from his safe, according to the police report filed at the time.

Three days later, the on-line magazine Slate busted Posner, who resigned and declared he had “inadvertently, but repeatedly, violated my own high standards.” (more…)

Stop, thief, continued

Gerald Posner's Facebook photo

When award-winning writer Gerald Posner admitted that he had plagiarized a substantial part of his story about a sensational murder case from the Miami Herald, he blamed the World Wide Web.

The core of my problem was in shifting from that of a book writer – with two years or more on a project – to what I describe as the “warp speed of the net.”

That’s like a carpenter blaming his hammer when he hits his thumb.

Here’s how Posner describes his working methods, the methods he says made him an “accidental plagiarist.”

For the Beast articles, I created master electronic files, which contained all the information I developed about a topic – that included interviews, scanned documents, published articles, and public information. I often had master files that were 15,000 words, that needed to be cut into a story of 1,000 to 1500 words.

In the compressed deadlines of the Beast, it now seems certain that those master file were a recipe for disaster for me. It allowed already published sources to get through to a number of my final and in the quick turnaround I then obviously lost sight of the fact that it belonged to a published source instead of being something I wrote.


February 16, 2010

Scandal at The Times–again

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 2:54 pm
Tags: , , ,

In a letter to Times executive editor Bill Keller, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, blew the whistle on a Times business reporter who lifted reporting from the Journal for the Times’ Website and the paper. The New York Observer was first to publish Journal editor Robert Thomson’s letter, which is now everywhere on the Web.

The Times responded with an editors note acknowledging that Kouwe “appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.”

Two days later Kouwes resigned.

Take a look after the jump at the similarities and the differences between the passages Thomson cited. (more…)

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