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Crediting Story Sources…. What Would You Do?

Posted By Darren Rowse 14th of January 2008 Reader Questions 0 Comments

Donald at Kamloops Inside Out has submitted this question for the wider ProBlogger community to answer.

“Have you ever had a local newspaper write an article in the paper that was taken from your blog and not referenced in the article?

This happened to me this week. I wrote an article regarding a sports facility here in Kamloops. The newspaper picked up on it and improved the story, but never gave credit to the impetus of the story. I did meet with the reporter face to face and she admitted that she found the story on my site. Just wondering how far to push this.”

It looks like Donald has posted about this and there’s already a response from the journalist here – but I thought it might make an interesting question for some discussion.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • I would be very angry to say the least.

  • I tipped Michael Martine of Remarkablogger about a point which he the next day wrote about on his blog, but hat’s off to him after a quick email to him asking about it in a jokey way he put a note on the post crediting the initial prompt! Which is how it should be IMHO.

    I think this woman is just trying to ‘get out of it’ by saying that she has many sources, has he checked the text through one of those copy write checkers to see how much different the article is?

  • Newspapers don’t quite work like blogs – they don’t list all their links and sources. Editors prioritize on space and claims for reliability.

    I recently had a newspaper journalist phone me asking me for my sources for a story I’d written up. I got the impression that if my blog was also available in written form as a magazine or newspaper it would have been regarded as a source in itself and would have been quoted in the newspaper article.

  • Let it go.


  • I pull news from several dozen sites when putting together the Breaking News section for, and I’m always very careful to include the site that brought it to my attention, usually as a “Read more” link. Sometimes, though, there is a better “read more” source (for example, an actual press release) – in those cases, I try to provide a link in the body of my story to the place I first saw it, because driving traffic to the source is a good way of showing that I appreciate what they do.

    If someone stole one of my posts, I’d definitely be irked. I know of several fellow writers who have had their work (and in some cases, their photos, too) “stolen” by certain big “aggregation” sites and not credited, but were advised not to say anything because it might get the whole site where they wrote “blacklisted.”

    It’s never happened to me (that I know of), but I’d probably take it up with whomever is responsible for the publication – in the case of your newspaper reporter, with her editor. There have been several cases in the not-too-distant past where the press was caught ripping material directly off the web uncredited – her editor isn’t likely to want to be associated with such things. Also, if she’s stealing your content, she’s probably stealing from others too, which means a pattern that could look very bad for the paper if they don’t remedy it.

    And, of course, less noble would be to take the story to a rival publication and let them have a field-day, but I’m sure you’re not that kind of person. :)

    I’d say go to the boss; you’ll probably get a lot farther than you will with someone who has already shown questionable ethics.

  • Her answer on his blog is pure BS. The fact she responded so defensively says something.

  • It doesn’t appear that their story was taken from your blog.
    Judging from the reporter’s response, they also did a story on the same topic. Unless they used your material directly, or indirectly, there is no need to refer to sources. Using your material would mean they quote verbatim or their article is taken from your blog, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

  • The response from the journo in the comments is the telling bit, basically saying “go ahead, try proving I stole it” as well as an inference that a professional journalist only owes attribution to other pro journo’s.

    It’s sadly how many a journalist views blogging, as a free source of story “inspiration”, the more adept and switched on use the blogshpere as an ear to the ground picking up stories early, again with little attribution and often taking credit for “breaking” it. Many journalists have a certain snobbery about admitting to reading blogs not least because they fear being seen as a middle man simply passing on someone else’s works, some fearful that they will do themselves out of a job by putting consumer and content together. Funnily enough though, they are quite happy to attribute sources that lend authority to their content, normally from “bigger” online publishers.

    Attribution is simply good web citizenship, sadly journalists aren’t always the best of citizens in the world at large so this will always happen, I think. Of course the truly smart journalists out there are embracing blogging and all it’s etiquette’s, being better and more effective for it too.

  • I think I could overlook it this time – if it wasn’t for her response.

    After her response both on the phone and on the blog… I don’t know what I would do, but I might have to send a letter in to her boss and leave it there. Or I might just let it drop, I’m not sure. Her attitude sure would make me angry.

  • Darren, you are not blogging at 12am are you?! (Australian time) That is dedication!

  • This is not ethic but people are doing this!

  • Agree with Jeff and Garg — you can’t “own” an idea for a story. If the journo takes material directly from your blog without attribution, then yes sure you’ve got grounds to complain, but otherwise it’s just a pick-up — if even that — and you’ve no grounds for complaint.

  • I think newspapers have to deal with this sort of thing from bloggers far more often than the reverse. How many times have you come across a blog that merely repeats what has been said on some media outlet’s site, sometimes word-for-word and complete with ripped-off photographs and lazy links to video. Please. Let’s not dump on “old media” all at once before taking a look in bloggers’ back yards.

  • When it happens in the blogging world you can just write it off as someone lacking much journalism experience. I would expect more from a newspaper. However, unless someone ripped off your exact content, I think it is safe to assume they shared an idea for an article and wrote it independently.

  • Max

    Hi Bloggrrl-

    With all respect, you have a recipe on your blog where you state: “Here’s a recipe I’ve modified”

    Is there some reason you didn’t cite the source? Wouldn’t that fall under the same heading as using someone’s idea (albeit a popular one) and making it your own?

  • Write a letter to the editor, copy the owner of the paper, and your attorney. State your observation that the story appeared to originate with your blog article, state the date/URL. Include what notes and recollection you have with regard to contact with the paper and the reporter.

    State that many people are being convicted and sued under the Digital Millennium copyright laws. If the paper had published the article online, it would be a deliberate breach of copyright by claiming the entire article as original content. If they copy their article online, and you had copied it without attribution, that would be a deliberate and actionable copyright violation, that many papers have pursued. And that you feel you are owed the same protection, and courtesy, under the law.

    Point out that blogs are intended to generate income in many cases – this is not a case where a for-profit newspaper company copies information from a private citizen – this is unethical theft of business property. You are sure they aren’t happy when it happens to them, you expect the same ethics and courtesy when they deal with you.

    Ask that the paper include under ‘corrections’ a mention they used concept and text of the article from your blog.

  • I would be upset only if she did not mention me. (which in that case it looks like she didn’t)

  • Let it go. Ideas are everywhere, and someone writing about the same topic does not mean they “stole” it from you. If they used your words, that is a different matter.

    We are all exposed to many of the same stimuli and bits of information. It is how we put them together and what we do with them that makes what we create unique.

  • That’s BS. I wouldn’t like that to happen to me. I would just ask for an apology in the comments section.

  • I recently had a UK Television program contact me about an article I had written on one of my websites about my experience with buying a particular gadget.

    They asked me to go on their TV show, but I was unable to do so because of work.

    They used the story anyway and didn’t give me any credit for it, so I guess it’s my own fault for not going on the program.

    Traditional journalists dont work the way we do, bloggers give credit to their sources, journalists dont generally do it.

  • Looks like a clash of cultural norms. Many bloggers goals are to create relationships, so of course we want to credit others. Journalists are doing something else, and it seems to be more related to what you have to do rather than what you might want to do.

  • I have had this happen, with some interviews I did with cast members of the show Jericho and an online tv website, but to be fair, once some readers of mine noticed it was the exact interview they contacted the website and I was cited the next time they used my work. I would feel funny going out and saying it happened tho, as the person who uses your stuff knows they are doing it, and if they do not cite you originally they are doing that for a reason. I will say that the reporters answers to him on his blog, was very defensive and kind of proves she did in fact base her work on his. Shame.

  • Donald:
    I had that happen with a piece I wrote, not at my blog but at my website. The offending “writer” took my in-depth article and actually re-published it word-for-word under his name in a rather prestigious magazine. I thought I would pop a vein when I found it!

    The worst part was that the person who heisted my stuff was a college professor teaching ethics!

    I wrote about our actions/response, as an object lesson in the balance between sharing information vs. copyright protection, with pointers about what to do both as protection, and as a response. That is here:

    I hope that’s helpful – and I’m SO sorry. I know that feeling of being violated – it’s as if someone broke into your home.
    Hildy Gottlieb
    President, The Community-Driven Institute at Help4NonProfits

  • Unless the reporter stated your story verbatim, that is, copied it or copied a substantial portion of it, she doesn’t have to refer to the source.

  • It does seem to me in that particular case the reporter just picked up on an idea, which is not enough to require crediting a blogger unless the blogger was indeed an actual primary source.

    This isn’t like the earlier situation where someone nearly took your post from last year and quoted it without attribution.

    In the world of print reporting, they don’t understand the benefits of cooperation the way the online world does. The paper could have picked up more readers from the bloggers sphere of influence by giving credit. It appears from her original conversation that she really did get the idea from the blog.

  • I had also experienced him. Previously I had sent the article to one of the local newspapers, and was not approve by editorial staff. But after 3 weeks my article was published by this newspaper, but did not write my name, they wrote the other name. After I asked to the quite normal writer has written in the media, he said let if still want to wrote in this media.

    But if seeing this case, was really unethical did the matter thus. i had it.

  • Deb

    As a former Journalism student and currently a freelancer, I am appalled at her rationale. I am equally appalled at the misinformation about plagiarism stated here.

    I sum this up under the New York Times culture of Journalism. Create the impression of a model newspaper to disguise the fact that it’s built on bad examples.

    The reporter has insinuated that she alone did the legwork to create that article which is a falsehood. If the questioner did the legwork he deserved credit for his work contributing. If she refuses you should pursue this to the editor and the publisher and if need be to the owner. If there is a culture of stealing other people’s work it needs to be nipped now because the credibility of the paper and its organization is at stake as well as its ability to serve its community fairly.

  • From here comment it sounds like she done it before and had complaints.

  • I blog about a late night television show (“The Colbert Report”), and we are considered to be one of the more authoritative fan blogs on the subject. An audience member leaked a story to me about something that had happened at a recent filming, and so we blogged it. MediaBistro, HuffPo and BoingBoing picked it up, then it got picked up by the mainstream media and even went international due to the fact that it involved billionaire Richard Branson.

    By the time it made it out of the blogosphere, there was no trace of our blog’s name as the original source. Or even the MediaBistro article that was considered to be the source of the AP article that was going around.

    Then the story got mentioned on the late night show we blog about. They showed screenshots of multiple blogs, inlcuding MediaBistro and HuffPo, all the national coverage, and all the international coverage. But not one word about US, the original source of the quote. Were we ticked? A bit. But, after we had calmed down a bit, we realized that we were considered such an authoritative news source about the subject at that point that very popular blogs such as MediaBistro, BoingBoing and HuffPo trusted us enough to quote our blog, and to make a really big story out of it. Would it have been nice to get more recognition for it? Well, yeah, but knowing that we broke such a huge story felt good in its own way. And a screenshot of the link to our blog story on MediaBistro was featured on the show, so we felt pretty good about that. :)

  • As several have said, indeed, let this go. Ideas are not copyrightable nor patentable … you speak about being the impetus of the story … there is no office of impetus rights. An idea can not be owned.

    If they lifted your words, you likely have a case of copyright violation, but you, yourself, don’t claim they did that. You’d be far ahead working on your next idea rather than hanging on to the last one… or so I opine.

  • That sounds a little bit strange to me, and her comment was saying guilty, guilty, guilty.
    I think Donald might be best to contact the editor of the newspaper and ask for an explanation, she’s not admitting it, but where else did she get the information from? Take it to the editor and let us know what happens.

  • Martin Jones

    I actually had one of the major Cable News channels call me a few weeks back and ask about a story on my site. (related to a breaking news event) They wanted to confirm the information and ask how I got it. About 20 minutes later, after the initial call they called back again and asked for a number I could be reached at throughout the day. I provided it.

    After hanging up the phone, I turned over to their channel quickly. In fact, just in time to hear them say, “An Internet site has information that blah, blah blah….The same site states, “blah, blah, blah….” (The blah, blah, blah is my post)

    So, my post leads their news hour and the closest I come to being mentioned is, “an Internet site”. Nice.

    Blogging…The highs are high and the lows are low. :-)

  • I wouldn’t appreciate such actions, but I would try to make lemonade from this lemon.

    Rather than put the reporter on the defensive, I’d attempt to make this person my ally so that I become a quotable source in the future instead of someone the reporter never wants to hear from again.

  • Everyone who writes a post, copies some words from an article that gives them information on what they are writing about. I’m sure Donald has used other peoples ideas before, we all do. The problem is the writer liked your idea but didn’t trust you source.

  • Problogger community,

    Thanks for the input. You all are great. There are so many different ways of looking at this that I wanted to get some help. Many of you are correct, I never accused her of plagiarism. I just wanted to be cited. Nobody else had written about this particular story. The sports facility cost a lot of money – which local citizens are paying for. I thought we needed an answer as to why we were not getting all that we paid for.

    Anyway, the story got her on the front page. It sure would’ve been nice to be there too. I agree, that bloggers are about connecting relationships, newspapers are not.

  • I have a degree in Commercial Law and as such I can say surely that this is not right legally.

    There are a lot of people in the comments here saying “oh it happened to me, must have been my fault for not saying something”.


    It is against the law and you would be well within your rights to kick up a fuss.


  • LC

    I think the key is to establish and maintain a good relationship with the local press. I get quoted once or twice a month, and they are usually one-three line quotes, nothing major. They understand the power of implied authority, and although we’ve never had the conversation, I am very good to them if there’s some news in our field that is not public yet. Sometimes we WANT that news to be public, and sometimes we’re doing them a favor.

    I would never alienate a reporter. You have everything to lose, nothing to gain but a brief feeling of vindication.

  • Much ado about nothing. I thought the reporter’s answer was well-thought out and legit. Blogs are not newspapers and vice-versa. Nothing unethical about this — you cannot copyright an idea. I agree — get over it and move on.

  • Deb

    Reporters should not alienate bloggers. Our keyboards bite; and they are felt farther than the paper’s readership.

  • The local paper here “gets inspired” from my site at LEAST 10 times a week, and without me, they’d be fishing for stories that really stink. God forbid I ever take a week off!

    There’s one way to bite back.. take one of their stupid stories and publish (re-written) on your site (with no credit).. maybe they won’t like how it feels either.

    If they want to play that game, then let them… Their loss for not forming a good relationship with a (much more) influential blogger.

    In the end, my readers out-number theirs 1000 to 1… so burn on them!

  • Robert

    Um, this is pretty normal. I’ve worked in several newsrooms and a lot of time is spent reading competing papers, magazines and whatnot and pilfering stories. As others have said, you can’t copyright an IDEA. Besides, the original source still gets the glory of having scooped everyone else…

  • Darren- I would write a letter to the editor explaining the circumstances. Journalists look down on these practices and a good editor would frown upon this and put this writer in her place. I don’t think she deserves to get fired over it but just to let the paper know that they need the give credit to their sources. If you lay down with a site as popular as yours, they’ll think they can do the same for all blogs (especially one’s significantly smaller than yours).

  • Max, to my knowledge recipes cannot be copyrighted. If I were to write and sell a cookbook, all of the recipes would be public domain from that point onward. Any of my own words, explanations, etc. would be protected under copyright, but the actual recipe…list of ingredients, steps to take, etc. are not protected. While it would be nice to attribute where you got a recipe from, it doesn’t fall under the usual attribution requirements. And if she’s adapted a recipe, then doesn’t that then make it an original?

    As for the news story if you can’t prove that plagiarism took place then I say drop the issue but keep an eye on the reporter. Good relations with the press may be valuable in the future.

  • I would make them give credit to you and leave it at that.

  • Max

    AmyL: Yes, you’re absolutely right. Newspapers and magazines often say ‘adapted’ or ‘inspired’ by when re-publishing recipes.

    But if we’re going to criticize ‘real’ journalists for ethical lapses and not properly citing sources, we as bloggers should be just as vigilant (if not more) since we have the ability to easily provide a link to our source.

  • There’s nothing to be done and nothing that can be done. I don’t think the blogger understands how newspapers work.

    Newspapers get ideas for stories all the time – from contacts and sources, from blogs, from other newspapers and media outlets. There is no copyright in the idea and no rule that whoever does the story first must be acknowledged – the newspaper will simply do its own investigation and redo the story as its own.

    Generally speaking, aknowledgement will be given only in cases when:
    a) the story is a scoop and the newspaper is feeling generous enough to acknowledge the scoop, or it is so big that they really have to (think Watergate, not a local sports facility).
    or b) it suits the purpose of the article to draw attention to public opinionin the blogosphere (quoting blogs can be a lazy replacement for pavement pounding and getting vox pops from real life people) or the media attention that an issue has received.
    or c) the newspaper has been unable to do its own investigation and verify the information in the original story. Therefore they will use information and quotes citing the original source, rather than claim it as their own. This is as much to cover themselves if the info is wrong as it is to give acknowledgement – it signals to the reader that they haven’t actually verified the info so it serves to make it more questionnable than credible.

  • Court

    One thing’s for sure: Bloggers certainly are getting some inflated egos these days.

    Give any opinionated goofball out there a keyboard and an internet connection and suddenly they’re to be respected the same as a New York Times journalist.

    Newsflash: There’s a big difference between stealing content and elaborating on ideas available to the general public.

  • @AmyL, I did a food writing course last year at the Arvon Foundation, with Sophie Grigson and Alastair Hendy. You are partially correct in saying there is no copyright on recipes. It is true that there is no copyright in the ingredients and method – it is instruction rather than a creation of literary merit. However, there is copyright in the expression (ie the wording and structure). And it is common practice, although not mandatory, among recipe writers to cite each other and tell where the inspiration for recipes has come from.

  • I hope I am not out of line in making multiple comments but I just thought I would give an example to elaborate on what I have said above.

    What happens if I work for the Daily Herald (names are fictitious) and the Local Weekly runs an interesting story that I think has relevance to my readers? Let’s say the Local Weekly quotes the local mayor and a number of High Street shopkeepers. Do I copy the Local Weekly story? No, I do not. But do I quote the Local Weekly or cite it as a source? No, I do not.

    What I do is call up the local mayor and get a fresh interview and go down the High Street and talk to shopkeepers myself. Do I cite my sources? Yes, I do. But the “sources” in the story are the mayor and the shopkeepers, not the Local Weekly story that gave me the idea.

    If, however, the Local Weekly had access to special council documents that had been leaked in a sensational or noteworthy way then I might mention them because the fact that the story got out, and the method by which it got out, has become part of the story.

    It’s about what best serves the READERS. They usually don’t care who said what first, they just want the news.

    Blogging is different because one of the features of blogs is the conversation and the linking and citing. As a blogger, I always cite sources and I link where possible. But what I am doing is not the same as reporting and my duty is to my peers as much as it is to the readers. There’s also reciprocity – I expect other bloggers to also link and cite when they are bouncing ideas that I originated. It’s all part of the game and it’s lots of fun. It’s different to, but not better than, journalism.

  • I have never had any posts featured on an offline media but I do have some submitted by posts articles to some mags and got featured. Of course, they do include my name on it. For Donald’s case, I felt sorry for you but these things happen frequently out there, even in the blogosphere. Anyway, I don’t think most blogs are influential enough to shake a mainstream media’s actions.

    I do credit my ideas sources as for me, they deserve the credit since I am inspired of what to write because of their articles.

    Also, linking out has been a good way to network with other bloggers. He/she will not know that you are writing about their articles without you linking to them. Cross blog discussions or conversations will not only help spreading your ideas, you might also make new friends who shares the same views on certain issues over the blogosphere.