By May 13, 2018 Read More →

COLUMN: Where’s the integrity in cut-and-paste journalism?

By SAMANTHA PERRY

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

The subject line on the email from a friend, a former journalist, was a succinct question. “Look familiar?”

I clicked to open, then followed the link provided. I was directed to a purported “news” website — Par the Course — and a story that did indeed sound very familiar. The article, under a byline I did not recognize, was about expected traffic delays due to upcoming construction on Interstate 77.

Three paragraphs in, my anger started to rise. I quickly switched tabs and called up a previous Daily Telegraph story about the delays written in April by veteran newspaperman Charlie Boothe.

Word for word, quote for quote, the stories were verbatim.

(Other than Charlie’s missing byline, of course.)

We had been ripped off — again.

•••

In this cut-and-paste world of technology, wannabe journalists think it’s OK to steal content from established news sites and post it as their own.

And I do not use the word “steal” lightly.

We pride ourselves on employing respected journalists who gather news with accuracy and integrity. We pay wages and benefits, and also pay for tools of the trade — computers, software, police scanners and more.

And we do this with a 125-year reputation of communicating news of importance to residents of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

We post stories frequently to our website with links to social media. We want our readers to be able to get information any time of day via desktop, tablet or cellphone.

Then, an unknown figure hits “Control C” and “Control V.”

Our story hits the Internet again, but this time readers are directed to the cut-and-paste “news” site.

Our hard work, our effort, our dollars are out the door.

Clicking on the “contact” page, I see there is no phone number to reach the administrator of the site.

However, one could email “for advertising and sponsorship inquiries.”

I shake my head.

•••

The problem of “borrowed,” “lifted” or “stolen” content — use the adjective you prefer — is not a new one for newspapers.

For decades, we have grumbled, cursed and raised hands in anger as we watched and listened to our hard-earned content being regurgitated and broadcast.

Here’s a note for readers and viewers to consider: Just because someone “reads” a story with a professional and authoritative demeanor does not mean he or she generated the content or even has a clue about the core concept of the story.

It simply means he or she is a good … well, reader. (Not to be confused with a journalist.)

•••

Let’s pause here to note there are journalists from competitive broadcast news agencies who do an incredible job. They gather the facts on their own, prepare a well-written report, deliver it with accuracy and scoop us in the process.

To those reporters, I give props.

I look forward to following your career as you move up to Atlanta, Chicago, New York or other metropolitan market.

•••

Perhaps my current ire has to do with a recent spurt of “cabbaged copy,” the phrase used by my mentor and editor, the late Tom Colley.

A few months ago, I noticed a local competitor had posted a story that I knew we had exclusively. Their source was a statewide news site. Checking out the state story, I saw our facts and details with no attribution. I contacted the reporter and learned that he had not written it — their desk folks had picked it up and disseminated it with his byline. Sometime later the story was revised to give proper credit to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

Yes, I do take the time to track down the story behind our “borrowed stories.”

Several years ago, when one of our news stories was on a TV website complete with direct quotes from a State Police sergeant, I called the trooper and asked if he had been interviewed by the station.

His response was, “No … can I ask why you are asking?”

When I explained the situation, the sergeant responded that he never realized this was a problem.

“How do you handle it?” he asked.

“With difficulty,” I answered.

•••

Not long ago, I saw a story we broke about the arrest of a local official on DUI charges pop up on a competitor’s website. The station posted a sentence or two of confirmation of the news. It wasn’t a detailed report, but it was generated honestly. I respect that.

A second station posted a story much later, which appeared to be written with facts from our article with no attribution. Perhaps this TV “reader” was able to get a copy of the criminal complaint, although I find that unlikely. Our reporter was at the courthouse annex early that Saturday morning, and they were getting ready to close as he was leaving.

Even more appalling was the photograph of the official the station used — the very one posted with our story. I clearly recall the day the picture was taken — by our photographer, in our conference room, on the afternoon of an editorial board session. Look closely at the picture and one can see the landscaped area of our grounds through the window in the background.

•••

Perhaps I shouldn’t let theft of content, copy and photos bother me so much. But the truth is that it does anger me.

Journalism is supposed to be about honesty, integrity and ethics. If the news you’re receiving is stolen, what message does that send?

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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