Mainstream Media Can’t Stop Using Bloggers’ Words Without Attribution

Michael Calderone at The Politico pours some scalding water over the New York Times‘s defense of Maureen Dowd:

Last night, I reported on the plagiarism allegations leveled against New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd after a passage from a Talking Points Memo post by Josh Marshall ended up in her Sunday column without attribution.

On Sunday, Dowd told POLITICO — and others — by e-mail that the passage came from a friend, and that she hadn’t read the TPM post. So she unknowingly used Marshall’s words.

But that raised other issues about whether it’s common practice for Dowd to use entire passages from friends in her column without attribution. And when I sent a follow-up email about this to Dowd, she didn’t respond. (Also, it’s unclear whether this friend communicated the information over phone or e-mail — considering it was almost verbatim from TPM, e-mail seems more likely).

So I put the question of whether this is common practice for columnists before Times editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal, who passed me along to PR. But now I’ve now received a statement supporting Dowd from spokesperson Diane McNulty.

Maureen had us correct the column online as soon as the error was brought to her attention, adding in the sourcing to Marshall’s blog. We ran a correction in today’s paper,  referring readers to the correct version online.

There is no need to do anything further since there is no allegation, hint or anything else from Marshall that this was anything but an error. It was corrected. Journalists often use feeds from other staff journalists, free-lancers, stringers, a whole range of people. And from friends. Anyone with even the most passing acquaintance with Maureen’s work knows that she is happy and eager to give people credit.

I don’t understand how the fact that Marshall has no problem means the Times doesn’t do anything further. The paper has its own standards to upkeep regardless of who’s complaining or not.

Howard Kurtz says that Dowd’s no Jayson Blair, and he’s correct. I don’t think she tried to pull a fast one and use a TPM passage without anyone noticing. But I think this incident sheds light on the use of content without attribution — even if from a friend — that seems to be acceptable at the Times. Of course a columnist will take ideas from those they speak with, but entire passages verbatim?

If I was e-mailed a 40-plus-word block of text for this blog, and I used it, I’d include some sort of attribution — whether “a reader writes in,” “media insider points out” or whatever the case may be.

But from The Times’ response, it seems the paper finds it acceptable for columnists to take entire paragraphs from friends (or sources?), over the phone or e-mail, and reproduce them verbatim in the paper under the columnist’s byline.

If you are a blogger, you might want to pick some of your posts at random and drop them into Google. You might be surprised at what you find.

Explore posts in the same categories: Internet and Media

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