The Washington Post versus Gawker

Background story in a nutshell

  1. Washington Post writer Ian Shapira writes an article about business coach/’generational consultant’ Anne Loehr: Speaking to Generation Nexus: Guru Explains Gens X, Y, Boomer To One Another
  2. Gawker blogger Hamilton Nolan picks up the story: ‘Generational Consultant’ Holds America’s Fakest Job
  3. Shapira complains that Gawker stole his story: The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition)

My take

Shapira’s claim that Gawker did not properly attribute him are unfounded.  The Gawker post links to the original article and to Loeher’s generational cheat sheet.  Hyperlinks are the footnotes and citations of our generation (as Loeher would probably say). I’m giving my advice for free: my generation thinks that generational business coaches are B$.  We live in a cut and paste culture; computers lower the barrier to making derivative works, as the next section of this post will demonstrate.  The subject of the original article was pretty ridiculous to begin with, as if it were tailor-made for Gawker fodder.  Gawker added value to the original with its snarky commentary. (Ms. Loeher, is snark a characteristic of my generation too?)

If Oscar Wilde were alive today, he would probably say, “the only thing worse than being blogged about is NOT being blogged about.”  While we are on aphorisms, let me give you some more free (useless) advice about my generation, courtesy of Descartes, updated for our times: Blogito ergo sum. “I blog, therefore I am.”

I don’t think Gawker is so much ruining journalism as Shapira claims as much as it is Maybe the WaPo should stick to actual news coverage and investigative reporting (after all, this is the newspaper that exposed the Watergate scandal, but “old media” can’t just rest on its past laurels).  “New media” like Gizmodo is going to give newspapers a run for their money in terms of business model.  Newspapers can either adapt their business models and learn to compete with the supposed “pirates” (“piracy is just another business model“), or they can fail.  They can revamp their content and delivery models, or they can streamline and specialize in what they do best.  But here’s a hint for being hip with the kids: complaining about the death of journalism is old news and kind of played out.

Or, in a move of desperation, they can throw down the gauntlet and start an Internet turf war like Shapira has done, which is actually a very Gawker-esque thing to do.  (What would Anne Loeher say about how that reflects on Shapira’s generational values?) It certainly has succeeded in getting people’s attention, but I hope this is not the sustainable business model the WaPo has in mind.

Commentary from the blogosphere AKA aggregation adds value

Stowe Boyd: As Media Economics Shift, Old Media Can’t See The Forest, Only Trees

So, at core, the issue here is something larger. Who owns the world of discourse? Who is allowed to profit, and in what way, from the actions of participants in this web sphere?

Various arguments could be made about fanciful mechanisms.

  • Imagine a world where people are paid to read stories, basically getting a kickback from publishers from ad revenue. (Hasn’t caught on.)
  • We could weigh the value of every link pointing to or away a piece on the web, and a complex, Google-pagerank-ish algorithm could figure out to six decimal points how much everyone owes each other each week. (Impossible to implement, I bet.)
  • Authors could attempt to demand that no one should link to their pieces, or clip any information from them without permission or recompense. (Counter to fair use provisions of copyright and free speech protections.)
  • Companies like the Washington Post can put everything behind a paywall. (Good luck.)

These mechanisms hinge on old thinking about value.

The web is a place where connection trumps content: content isn’t king, context in a web of meaning is king.

Rachel Sklar: Did Gawker Rip Off The Washington Post? Yep.

The blogosphere has done something weird to the media industry: Now, the imprimatur of having contributed something is not the original byline, but whether your piece was “picked up.” Pickup provides that extra stamp of relevance, that what you did is worthy of inclusion by the all-important aggregators — the outlets which determine the days need-to-know stories, so busy people with no time to read any of it will at least know what’s up. Yes, yes, congratulations on getting your little article published in a top national newspaper — but a Drudge/Romenesko/HuffPo/Gawker link? Awesome!

It’s not just about traffic, it’s about affirmation: You’re on to something. You’re relevant.

Zachary M. Seward: Gawker and The Washington Post: A case study in fair use

Words in Post article: 1,527
Words from Post article quoted in Gawker post: 226 (15%)
Original words in Gawker post: 204
Labor devoted to Post article: about 2 days
Labor devoted to Gawker post: 30-60 minutes
Cost of Post article: roughly $750
Cost of Gawker post: roughly $20
Revenue generated from Post article: unknown
Revenue generated from Gawker post: roughly $200
Blog links to Post article: 7
Blog links to Gawker post: 4
Rank of Gawker post among referrers to Post article: 2nd
Rank of Post article in Google search for profile subject: 3rd
Rank of Gawker post in Google search for profile subject: 6th

Matthew Ingram: Gawker, the WaPo and the death of journalism

I’d be willing to agree that Gawker could have — and maybe even should have, in an ethical sense — mentioned Shapira and his story specifically. But there is no way in heck that a post with three links and an explicit reference to the source constitutes anything approaching a “rip-off” or the “death of journalism.” How about the death of hyperbole, and the rebirth of rational debate about the value of linking and traffic, and/or the ethics of sourcing online? That would be nice.

emptywheel: The Stealing Wars: What’s Good for Gawker Is Good for WaPo’s Slate

Shapira has a point about this particular instance of Gawker’s abuse of etiquette. But he misses all the ways that this information economy is a multiple-directional exchange, one the WaPo is as happy to engage in as Gawker.

VOXPOPULI: How Alan Denton And His Gawker Henchmen Are Ruining Journalism Forever

So, what’s the point of all this? Shapira points out that what took him a day to produce took Gawker less than an hour to claim as its own and make ad revenue from. Newspapers and other traditional media are certainly not the only form of journalism, but they are the ones that 1. pay well enough for one to live a decent life as a working journalist and 2. have (had?) the resources to allow for real news-gathering, which takes time and effort. And with newspapers fading away, there’s less original content for blogs to re-purpose as their own.

On the other hand…blogs are more fun, or can be, and I myself am a Gawker regular. Blogs are a lot less formal and the best don’t, after all, just cut and paste without adding a bit of their own eleven herbs and spices. In the age of the Internet, information is an increasingly free commodity.

Appendix

This is totally tangential, and I doubt you’ve made it this far, but I’ve had my own brush with Nick Denton’s blogging empire before.  Gizmodo picked up my head(banger)phones project from the ITP Winter Show last December.  They misreported the programming language I used to execute the project.  I posted a comment to correct them, but the post was never corrected.  Oh well, I enjoyed the 15 seconds of Internet fame while it lasted.  You could always read the official story about the head(banger)phones on LEESEAN.NET.

In case you haven’t heard enough from Shapira:

Washington Post staff writer Ian Shapira will be online Monday, Aug. 4, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled “How Gawker Ripped Off My tory and Why It’s Destroying Journalism.”

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