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August 3, 2009

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Generation Gap

Although it's the description I use professionally, I'm ambivalent about the term "new media." I worry that it implies a wider gap between print/broadcast and Internet-based journalism--when really, both are more similar than not. But then I see something like Ian Shapira's Washington Post op-ed, and I realize: sometimes, you have to spell these things out.

Shapira is very, very upset that a blog excerpted parts of his story, added commentary, and then linked to the original Post article. No, seriously: he spends 1,900 words complaining that The Internets Stole His Bucket.

My article was ripe fodder for the blogosphere's thrash-and-bash attitude: a profile of a Washington-based "business coach," Anne Loehr, who charges her early-Gen-X/Boomer clients anywhere from $500 to $2,500 to explain how the millennial generation (mostly people in their 20s and late teens) behaves in the workplace. Gawker's story featured several quotations from the coach and a client, and neatly distilled Loehr's biography -- information entirely plucked from my piece. I was flattered.

But when I told my editor, he wrote back: They stole your story. Where's your outrage, man?

They stole your story? That's a bit melodramatic, Anonymous Editor. They quoted chunks of it, summarized the rest with some snarky editorial commentary, and then linked both to the original article and its (badly-formatted) sidebar. In doing so, they drove a fair amount of traffic to the Post, something Shapira even admits:
Gawker was the second-biggest referrer of visitors to my story online. (No. 1 was the "Today's Papers" feature on Slate, which is owned by The Post.) Though some readers got their fill of Loehr and never clicked the link to my story, others found their way to my piece only by way of Gawker.

Even if I owe Nolan for a significant uptick in traffic, are those extra eyeballs helping The Post's bottom line?

A: Yes, since it's an ad-supported site. This has been another episode of short answers to stupid questions.

Shapira ends his piece with a weak plea for earlier credit and shorter excerpts, as if Gawker should just put up a link reading "Ian Shapira's Awesome Article at Washington Post" and leave it at that. But between the opening and closing paragraphs, he spends a significant amount of time blaming the Internet for killing journalism. He interviews a lawyer who's trying to get newspapers the ability to sue websites that excerpt their material, and who states "If you don't change the law to stop this, originators of news reports cannot survive." Yes, legislating success has worked out well for other industries, hasn't it?

There are a lot of reasons why the originators of news reports may be finding it hard to survive, but being quoted in a high-traffic blog like Gawker is not one of them. On the other hand, being the kind of news organization that spends nearly 2,000 words on this kind of whining probably isn't helping your case.

A little while back, one of my managers asked me to define "webby" as a sanity check after someone tried to use it in an excuse. It's not a word I'd personally use, I said, but I'd basically argue that it means doing three things: link to other people, make it easy for them to link to you, and take advantage of the format to adapt your voice. That's basically what "new media" means to me. You still do good journalism, but you realize that it's no longer published in a vacuum. I'm not sure why that's so hard for reporters and editors to understand. But by all means, guys, keep getting angry when people send traffic your way. Let's see how that works out for you.

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