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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Is the media ripping off bloggers?

10 February 2009

There was a time when bloggers were heavily reliant on the mainstream media (MSM) as a source of inspiration.

It has not been uncommon for many blogs to consist of little more than links to news sites separated by a little personal commentary or perspective.

That's a model which has worked very well. Few people have the time to read every story that comes across the wires and many bloggers are effectively highlighting the stuff they feel is important.

By linking to stories on MSM websites, bloggers are providing attribution to major news publishers, newspapers, broadcasters and the like -- which is as it should be. It's neither ethical nor polite to present someone's own work as your own or publish such without attribution.

But things are changing, and not for the better.

Recently there's been a growing tendency for the MSM to pick up stories broken by bloggers and claim them as their own.

A great example of this was the recent revelation that Winston Peters was still in possession of and actively using his ministerial vehicle, at taxpayers' expense -- even though he'd been out of the job (and indeed out of parliament) for several months.

This interesting and news-worthy fact was broken by the well-known blogger at Whale Oil but did the Sunday papers give credit where it was due?

Hell no they didn't. They gave the impression that it was their own investigations and hard work that broke this story.

David Farrar also blogged about this situation yesterday, refering to a couple of incidents recently where his work has been taken by the MSM without any form of attribution.

Personally, I've lost track of the number of stories I've broken here on Aardvark that the MSM have turned into "their own work" by failing to even mention this column.

Quite frankly this sucks.

Increasingly, the best source of news stories the MSM has is the blogging community and if they continue to simply *steal* the hard work of others then I suspect there's going to be a nasty backlash before long.

As blogging becomes a career option for a growing number of people, it's not even just a pride or glory thing -- it's a matter of financial survival.

The hard work undertaken by leading bloggers becomes intellectual property with a very real value that should be recognised by the MSM. To simply plunder other people's work, tart it up with some added fluff and call it your own is bordering on piracy.

Let me say this to the MSM...

You wouldn't steal a car, you wouldn't steal a stereo -- so stop nicking other people's hard work and passing it off as your own without any attribution!

Oh, did I just steal the intellectual property of the movie industry? (gasp!)

But seriously, the MSM is going to have to adopt a code of practice or industry policy in respect to sharing the limelight when they pilfer stories from blogs. If they don't then I can see some nasty face-offs arising.

Or maybe it's time for the blogging community (especially the professional or semi-professional bloggers) to form a representative body and assert their rights in respect to the material they create.

While it's just lovely to see your research and writing taken by the MSM and used to create revenues, there's no substitute for actual payment or proper attribution so the public knows who did the hard slog to break the story.

For an ad-funded blog, traffic has a strong influence on revenues. Get an attribution in the MSM and you will see a spike in traffic that can translate into what effectively becomes a form of payment for the use of your material.

By simply referring to the source as "a blog" or not conceding that anyone else played a part in breaking the story, the MSM often deprive hard-working bloggers of the rewards they deserve for their efforts. Now if copying a CD can be called stealing -- such failure to adequately attribute is surely another case of theft.

I know that a lot of other bloggers read Aardvark so I'd be interested to hear from any who might be interested in forming an entity that can properly represent the rights of the blogging community when dealing with the MSM and their unethical ways.

And what do readers think?

Is the MSM being unethical when not fully (or even vaguely) attributing those stories that have been lifted from blogs?

Is this skullduggery on the part of the MSM just another indicator that they're struggling to find their way in a world where anyone can break and report the news?

What message do *you* have for the MSM?

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