Credit is a Two Way Street

Judge Richard Posner recently suggested an extreme solution to the potential death of the newspaper.  Using the argument that there’s no reason to buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, Posner urged the expansion of copyright law to “bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent.”  In other words, burn blogs to save newspapers.

But this assumes, as Posner does, that its only blogs that free-ride off the newsgathering efforts of “legitimate” media.  While this is certainly the predominant flow, it’s not always the case, as was clear today when the New York Times published a story about Sonia Sotomayor’s foray into private practice under the name “Sotomayor and Associates.”  It was a wonderful piece of investigative journalism, but for one detail.  The news was unearthed not by the Times, but by blawger Eric Turkewitz at New York Personal Injury Attorney Blog.

Nowhere does the New York Times mention that Turk was the source of its “news”.  At least when Turk uses the Times as a source, he links to the original story.  The Times doesn’t return the favor.

This isn’t the first time that Turk has come up with a bit of news that ultimately made big headlines.  He was well ahead of the curve on the Flea, and even his brilliant April Fools post about baseball conflicted Supremes tricked a few media outlets.  When it comes to producing exceptionally significant blawg posts, Eric Turkewitz is one of the best.

So where’s the media love and appreciation?  They don’t mind borrowing the work of blawgers like Turk, so why not return the favor by giving credit where credit is due?

I fear that the answer for “real” journalists is that they matter and blawgers just don’t.  While Posner sees the blogosphere as the little people free-riding on the coattails of the hard-working legitimate journalists (and I don’t deny that some are indeed hard-working, and some are occasionally legitimate journalists), any rules he would impose ought to cut both ways.  Not only does the Times free-ride off Turkewitz, but it does so without acknowledgment that some lowly blawger came up with news that they didn’t, and that they had to steal from a blawger to get the story.

Most of us in the blawgosphere, and I include myself in this group, go to great lengths to give credit to the source of our posts, whether it’s a hat tip to a reader who sent a lead or the newspaper that carried the story or another blog that brought it to the fore.  Whatever it may be, we give attribution.  Not only is it a matter good etiquette, but it’s the honest thing to do.  There are a few, including some very well known bloggers, who simply don’t give credit, or credit “friends” when the source is obviously elsewhere.  But the ones who do this, including some of the academics who are happy to glom ideas from trench lawyers but will only cite to scholars lest they be revealed as slummers, compromise their integrity.  While the casual reader might not realize who the dishonest bloggers are, we know.

Internal disputes over sources amongst blawgers are hardly the same as when a newspaper like the New York Times, the Paper of Record, does the stealing.  While Huff Po and Drudge may have pretensions of matching the big boys, ordinary blawgers aren’t playing in the same game as big time newspapers.  I suppose that’s what makes it too painful for the Times to recognize that it needs a blawger like Turkewitz to come up with the information upon which its story relies.

But make no mistake about it.  Turk is the source of the New York Times story, and the absence of his name, and his blawg, in the piece is a shoddy reflection of its journalistic integrity.  Don’t ask the blawgosphere to love you when you won’t love us back, boys.

4 comments on “Credit is a Two Way Street

  1. Sojourner

    Very well said. I shudder to think of the ramifications of Judge Posner’s idea – suppressing free speech in order to aid the press? This is probably an overstatement, but wouldn’t that be the end result, ultimately? If you bar paraphrasing, aren’t you kind of extending the idea of copyrighted text to facts and information? I’m a legal lay person, but this scares the h-ll out of me.

  2. SHG

    I have to believe that Judge Posner was just trying to provoke thought, knowing that it wouldn’t be possible to suspend free speech in the name of saving newspapers.

  3. PointOfLaw Forum

    Sotomayor “and Associates”

    When practicing a bit of law on the side during her time with the Manhattan D.A.’s office and at a larger law firm, the nominee called her very small practice “Sotomayor & Associates” even though it had no lawyers but…

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