As we’ve seen, one of the most common accusation that mainstream media outlets level against bloggers is that they simply re-print mainstream content without adding any value. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to Spencer Ackerman’s post giving an example of mainstream media outlet using a blogger’s reporting without crediting him.
This week we saw a particularly egregious example of this phenomenon. For two years, my friend Radley Balko has been doing groundbreaking reporting on Steven Hayne, a crackpot pathologist whose “expert” testimony has put numerous innocent people in jail. Radley works for Reason, a libertarian magazine of ideas owned by a nonprofit organization of the same name.
Yesterday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper picked up the story and did an exposé on Hayne. To be clear, this is a good thing. Hayne deserves to be fired, if not thrown in jail, and any publicity about his wrongdoing helps accomplish that. However, it’s striking that CNN didn’t even bother to mention that Radley did all the heavy lifting on the story. CNN talked to largely the same people Radley has talked to in past stories, and according to two of those sources, CNN first learned about the story thanks to Radley’s reporting. Yet CNN couldn’t be bothered to add so much as a sentence acknowledging Radley’s groundbreaking work.
Now this isn’t illegal. Nor should it be. But it is rather unprofessional. And I think it’s a good illustration of what’s wrong with the standard story about large media organizations producing the news and blogs cutting and pasting. Not only does the sharing goes in both directions, but I think people have a skewed perception of which direction is more common precisely because blogs do a better job of crediting their sources. When Gawker builds on a Washington Post story, they don’t try to pretend it was original reporting; they give credit, provide a link, and they’ll often just quote the original story rather than re-interviewing all the same sources. So it’s obvious who’s copying whom. In contrast, when a mainstream media outlet like CNN decides to build on the reporting of an online source, they do a lot of extra (and possibly unnecessary) work to avoid giving credit. One consequence is that only in really blatant cases (like this one) does anyone catch them.
There’s a clear double standard here. If it’s wrong for a blogger to build a story on a mainstream media story with attribution and a link, it’s even more wrong for a mainstream media outlet to build on a blogger’s story without a word of credit. CNN owes Radley a prominent link to his past work. And an apology.