Tuesday, November 3, 2009

News Laundering

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2009 at 6:05 AM

Ryan Underwood, over at The Tennessean's "In Session" blog, accuses The City Paper of
click to enlarge SouthComm blogger posts screenshots of Tennessean blogger posting screen shots of Southcomm blogger. Tell me that's not hilarious.
  • SouthComm blogger posts screenshots of Tennessean blogger posting screen shots of Southcomm blogger. Tell me that's not hilarious.
news laundering. This is, quite frankly, the most delicious phrase I have read in some time.

"News laundering."

It just sounds like something you should be able to accuse the media of, even if you're not sure about what it is.

In this case, what Underwood means is that he thinks that The City Paper is using Kleinheider's blog as a way to bring in a story that is not theirs, attach a veneer of SouthCommie goodness to the story, and then move it back out to consumers as something The City Paper is bringing you, when it's a story from The Tennessean.

In this case, that seems to be a fair accusation.

But, as with most things still working themselves out on the Internet, it's hard to know if anything wrong actually happened.


Is it really that bad when other news organizations point people to your content? After all, it's not like the whole Tennessean story was available to SouthComm readers. You still had to click through (albeit quite a few clicks) to get to the story at The Tennessean.

It was the discussion of the day in many places around the blogosphere after Ryan Underwood's post appeared.

Kleinheider is upset at Underwood, "Yes, we actually credit and/or link to our source material over here unlike some folks we know."

Ryan Underwood is upset at Kleinheider. He says, "Are you kidding me? Ever heard of copyright law? Your habitual throwing out of somebody's last name--or not--does not a publication credit make. Not to mention running said credit-free item as a photo-centerpiece on your sister publication's website. You also seem to hint that this happens at In Session."

Okay, first of all, both men lose points for deliberately misunderstanding the other, though their deliberate misunderstanding is interesting. Kleinheider, an Internet man, rightly notes that nowhere in Underwood's post was there any link to the material he's talking about, no way for readers to go see for themselves if they agree with Underwood's interpretation.

Underwood, a print man, is arguing in this comment that The Tennessean writers are being improperly credited by Kleinheider, even though Kleinheider directly links to the pieces he notes. A name surely doesn't cut it in terms of attribution in print--but a name and a link to the primary source?

I don't see how it gets any better than that.

As Say Uncle notes, "Yes, a blog is complaining that someone dared to draw traffic to it. BTW, sparky, shouldn't your post there link to the offending piece?"

Online, linking is sourcing and citing. It says, "Here's where this came from" more clearly than anything outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style ever could.

Which brings us to Christian Grantham, who says, "Kleinheider did the right thing, but the editor of the Nashville City Paper online probably didn't." And I think this is right.

What's so interesting about this is that it is two worldviews in conflict. Repeatedly online, I've seen that people who come from a print-media background view the purpose of their website as bringing people in and keeping them there for as long as possible. I think that's why Underwood doesn't bother to link to any of the things he's talking about. He's brought eyes to his post and gives those eyes everything they need to understand what's happening right there.

This is completely antithetical to how power and authority are doled out online. When blogging works well, it's not because the blogger can bring people in and keep them there, it's because the blogger can direct traffic. "Go see this." "Don't miss that." "Is this guy as big a moron as I think he is? Here's a sample, but go read that and come back here and tell me."

The best newspapers view themselves as a final destination. Get everything you need right here.

The best blogs act more like travelogues, trying to bring you bits of all the places you might go and find interesting and trying to synthesize their importance for you. Done poorly, it seems a bit circular. Done well, and a reader feels like she has a wealth of information at her fingertips.

If the best newspapers are going to flourish online, they're going to need to take a little bit of that blogger ethos to heart. At the same time, they're also going to have to be careful about making sure they're not confusing folks about where their content comes from.

Grantham has a good guideline for how to prevent this kind of ridiculousness in the future. You should definitely go over there and check it out. (See how easy that was?)

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