Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Missouri newspaper pays blogger for copyright claim

Posted By on Tue, May 15, 2012 at 10:36 AM

A spat between a blogger and a newspaper editor is not breaking news. But a blogger asserting a copyright claim at the offices of a newspaper while a video camera is rolling - that's national news. Boing Boing is just one of the media outlets to pick up All American Blogger Duane Lester's story about serving The Oregon Times Observer of Oregon, Missouri, with a $500 invoice. Lester takes managing editor and publisher Bob Ripley to task for reprinting his blog post on the Holt County Sheriff's Department without permission or attribution.

The reason this has gone viral is that Ripley, despite eventually paying Lester, first blusters and then comes around the counter in a vaguely threatening manner to size up the man who is claiming plagiarism. It is six painful minutes of two worlds colliding: small-town newspapers and enterprise bloggers.

Community papers and local weeklies will always have a need for content. As a result, copy for a given week is often pulled from press releases. That fact should come with attribution, it often doesn't. What I suspect happened is that the web has served as fodder for the Times Observer in the past and a copy of Lester's blog post was e-mailed to the newsroom or discovered by the staff. Whether or not there was a byline attached is up for debate.

"There's a lot of copies of this going around...some of them doesn't have," Ripley says in the video.

I think he was going to say, "Some of them doesn't have your name." The problem with that argument is that it suggests that Lester's name was potentially on something he had seen. It also is a naive attitude for someone who claims to have learned the ethics of journalism 40 years ago. After a bit more back and forth, during which time Ripley demands to know where Lester is from and clearly enters the other man's personal space, his defense for running the story weakens.

"It's not reprinted, 100 percent like you had it," Ripley says.

The changes Ripley alludes to apparently included a word in the headline and an added paragraph at the end of the article. Ripley then cuts Lester a check for $500 and puts "bull shit" in the memo line. It's an action that puts the "small," in small-town paper.

My first job was at a community newspaper outside of Boston. One of my editors told me then, "The New York Times prints all that news that's fit to print, we print everything that fits." Still, the rules of the game were the same. The content you use should have a clearly identified source and the paper needs to have the right to publish that content. Shame on you, Mr. Ripley.

For the record, the copy desk is where newspapers should produce and edit their own copy - not just cut and paste stories from the Internet.

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