WaPo Writer’s Gawker Experience Raises Questions Of Fair Use

wapo.pngWe feel a bit guilty blogging about this right now, fearing that it will just add fuel to the fire raging over blogs (like this one) that draw information and quotes from stories in news sources like The Washington Post. But thanks to an article in the Post this weekend, the wound is open and raw, so we have to at least let you know what’s been going on.

Yesterday, Post writer Ian Shapira wrote about his experience when Gawker picked up an article he wrote for the paper early last month about a business coach who explains millennials to baby boomers. At first, Shapira was excited by Gawker’s take on his article. “I confess to feeling a bit triumphant…I was flattered,” he wrote.

Then, an email from his editor changed his mind: “But when I told my editor, he wrote back: They stole your story. Where’s your outrage, man?”

Shapira goes on to discuss the amount of work that went into his 1,500-word story that, although not “Pulitzer material” still required hours of travel, interviews, note-taking, transcribing and writing. You know, all the work that goes into any piece of journalism that is not merely a rehashing of someone else’s story. Was it fair of Gawker to rip the story from the pages of the Post and steal Shapira’s thunder? Right or wrong, it’s become common practice on news blogs.

And so, the debate continues.

Updated with Gawker’s reply. Read on.

While Shapira admits the Gawker item drove readers to his article, including people who may not have otherwise found his story, he points out that the blog drew copiously from the article with very little attribution or mention of him or the Post. Bottom line: should the Post be able to cash in on this liberal use of Shapira’s article some way? Hey, we all have bills to pay.

The blogs are on it. Rachel Sklar at Mediaite said Gawker ripped off Shapira, and they did it to her, too. Nieman Journalism Lab did some math to learn that Gawker’s piece used 15 percent of Shapira’s work. How much is too much?

Although Shapira himself brings up the idea that others have batted around regarding changes to copyright laws, Sklar has a good rule of thumb we’ve always agreed with with respect to blogging: “add something.” What did the Gawker item add to Shapira’s story?

Shapira himself had a good idea at the very end of his article:

So, Gawker, do me a favor. At least blog this piece. I’ll even write a headline for you (free of charge). How about: “Whiny WashPost Reporter Makes His Point: Respect the Genuine Article”? Oh — one other thing. If you sell ads against your posting, can you cut The Post a check?

It seems like Gawker’s response so far has been radio silence. There has been no mention of the article on the site as recently as this morning, although Nick Denton commented via Twitter: “Shapira’s piece on the appropriation of his work by Gawker was eminently reasonable. Fanatical bloggers should chill.”

Update: Gawker managing editor Gabriel Snyder posted a reply of sorts to Shapira’s story. He questioned Shapira’s own original product — where was the humor in his profile of a subject ripe for the mocking? “A less cumbersome way for newspapers to head off the threat of blogs would be to beat us to the punchline,” Snyder said.

Then, to add insult to injury, Snyder mentioned how often Post publicists send the paper’s stories to Gawker so they can pick them up, just like the did with Shapira’s. Touché.

And while we’re on the topic, here are all the links for the articles we mentioned:

The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition) WashPost

Did Gawker Rip Off The Washington Post? Yep. Mediaite

Gawker and The Washington Post: A case study in fair use Neiman Journalism Lab