Saturday, May 30

Newspaper editors with beams in their eye

A cold morning. Your Grumpy Old Journalist remained in bed, reading the morning papers, when he cames across this – the second editorial in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

An hour later, at 6am, I heard the wonderfully warm voice of Angela Catterns on ABC radio 702, reading out the headlines from the Herald, and then those from the Telegraph and the Weekend Australian. Naming them all.

The Herald calls this “filching”?

You cannot buy advertising on ABC radio. Why would you want to, when the ABC gives it away free? And yet the Herald is indignant?

It's true that many newsbreaking Herald stories – and other newspapers' exclusives, too – saturate the airwaves and the blogosphere for days. As the story develops, journalists and commentators tend not to acknowledge the original source of the story.

Before the Herald editors become too wound up, they could reach down the office Bible and turn to Matthew 7:3:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

[That's the King James version. Modern Bible translations use “speck” or “piece of sawdust” instead of “mote”, as this details.]

The editors could then turn back to a story they published on May 7 about Mick Keelty's resignation, and then read my post of the same day, “Keelty – getting the facts right”. In that post, I noted phrases in the newspaper report were the same as those in an earlier post of mine ( “This time, Mick Keelty must do the honourable thing and resign” on August 30, 2008). The Herald even repeated an error I'd failed to correct.

Most bloggers give idealistic support to the free exchange of ideas, and let others pick up, discuss, and disseminate their views. Under my profile over on the side, I assert copyright over material in this blog, but also say anyone is welcome to use the material, although I'd appreciate acknowledgement and a link.

The big non-profits on the internet do need a formal legal arrangement, and provide their content to other users under a GNU or a Creative Commons licence. (Wikipedia switched last week, and this article explains the different licences.)

Commercial publishers, like Fairfax, the owner of the Herald, do need copyright to protect what is, after all, their property. They owe it to their shareholders. But when an ethical blogger – such as, ahem, this old journo – picks up their material, acknowledges its source, and provides a link back to the Herald's online story, everyone's a winner.

The Herald seems to be becoming tougher, and more selfish on the internet.

On April 13, the well-regarded media blog Mumbrella accused Fairfax Digital Media of being a bad internet citizen by “ failing to contribute to the ecosystem of the blogosphere.”

That sounds a bit precious, but the blogger says Fairfax online stories provide clickable links only to its own sites – if a story does mention an external site, it won't provide the link. You have to key it in yourself. The Mumbrella blogger wrote:

Fairfax seems to prefer to treat its [online] readers a bit like a jealous man who tries to stop his girlfriend from meeting other men in the hope that this will protect the relationship. One Fairfax journo told me that the management “aren’t keen on linking outside”.

You'll find the Mumbrella blog here. It's worth reading, especially for Fairfax editors (although first, they may have to remove the beams from their eyes).


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