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GREEN: Piracy abounds in local media

Josh Green

Josh Green

Readers use curious prepositions these days in describing where they get their news.

Less and less, they say they have read the story "in" something. More and more, the story was "on" something. The old guard of traditional media, and the traditional reader, should view this as very bad news.

To say "in" implies permanence. It means the story that informed, shocked, amused, heartened or saddened the reader belonged somewhere, was adhered to some greater body of newsgathering skill or quite possibly -- fathom this -- a venerable institution. Above all, "in" suggests the story was permanently there.

I would argue that "on" -- perhaps an accidental derivative of "online" -- is more slippery. And more prone to thievery.

Metro Atlanta media devolves at times into a shameless cesspool of piracy. Certainly, as friends in other markets report, the situation is not exclusive to this region. I won't name the primary culprits, partially because that feels cheap, and partially because that's a semi-plug, and they sure as hell haven't been plugging me.

In a column titled "Atlanta media, you're on notice: stop stealing our stories" the editor of Atlanta's longstanding alt-weekly, Creative Loafing, ranted about the "wholesale stealing" of stories first uncovered by his crew. Eric Celeste lambasted the brazen but accepted unscrupulousness of local media practices, and he sounded genuinely shocked. He's a recent import from Dallas.

We all get beat in this business. As a scholar once said, "We are swimming in a sea of stories," and with or without a limited staff, it's frankly impossible to draw beads on all of them.

But the line between shamelessness and gumption is drawn by what happens next. Do you, media member, start from square one and build the information from scratch, or do you manipulate the property of others to make it appear your own?

Let's visit the Basic Crime Story, at its core:

To surface, the story will require many things. Boots on asphalt. A drive to a government building and gasoline. Passing through a metal detector, standing in line behind anxious people having very bad days, then politely waiting to gain access to a stack of public records, many of which are of no interest to you, and thus are not news. It will take decisions: "Does this matter? Is shedding light on this fair? Can I pull this off in two hours?" It will take hassling people for information and filling holes, which means hassling people all over again. It will take a will to inform, by way of -- ideally speaking -- professionalism and patience. Most of all, it will take proactivity.

The more honorable creation of Basic Crime Story does not involve cherry-picking, the masking wonders of grammatical trickery or downright theft. In these modern times, the honorable process is old school and, unfortunately, easily bypassed. It's a question of sweat equity versus copy-and-paste skulduggery.

Ask any daily journalist: What's worse than being beat on a story?

The answer: having to play catch-up, to bat cleanup. Instead of writing with the thrill that is the scoop, the sense is that you're duty-bound to some yawn-worthy reminder. That you are late to the birthday party and forced to eat stale cake.

Unless, that is, you can create the illusion of enterprise, and rush it to the public in reasonably quick fashion.

Consider this comment from a veteran crime reporter at the New York Daily News. He was asked recently for his opinion on the burgeoning culture of online media. He responded that the "aggregation types" are "bad ethos" and not worth his time, yet he acknowledged their ominous impact.

"Everyone's going to be locked into these aggregators until they get bored and realize they don't serve their interest, and they're going to look around for the real newspapers and the real newsmakers, and they're not going to be there anymore," reporter Kerry Burke said. "Then what are we going to do?"

People ask newspaper writers all the time if we think print is dead. I don't think the professionally gathered story will ever die. My fear is that people will forget how to tell the difference.

Josh Green covers cops and courts for the Daily Post. Email him at josh.green@gwinnettdailypost.com.

Comments

NewsReader 2 years, 5 months ago

Josh, I submit to you that there are sufficient numbers of people reporting on the same story with different viewpoints on the details, that it makes little difference what is in print, audio, or video because a wise individual will do his or her own research to uncover the real story. There isn't an insufficient number of "biased" reporters out there attempting to sway public opinion with their own perspective. Besides, even if the viewpoint is correct, I have personally experienced reports misrepresenting the facts whether purposefully or not to yield a story different than what is actually known to be the truth. So, to put it in a nutshell, you would do a greater service to the people of this country by simply giving us the facts, and keep your opinions to yourself (as in every reporter). I respectfully do not mean this to be a slam on you personally, but the business of reporting the news in general.

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richtfan 2 years, 5 months ago

you just made note of a huge contradiction.........you wrote "same story with different viewpoints on the details". The definition of reporting is when someone tells, writes or otherwise documents what happens in a certain location given certain events. The idea that there are different viewpoints indicates that someone is editorializing, NOT reporting. This is one of the gigantic mistakes of "reporting" in the last 25 years. This is exactly how the so-called mainstream news got so slanted to the left. People want to shape the news to fit their world view rather than report what happened. This is what has gotten NBC into deep water on the Trayvon Martin audio tape scandal. I call it a scandal simply because it is despicable that they chose to edit the audio and make it sound as if George Zimmerman was targeting the kid because of his color, which he was not. But this is what is passed off as "news" in 2012. Truly a very sad state of affairs, but the chickens are coming home to roost.

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LilburnLady 2 years, 5 months ago

I think much more dangerous and heinous is the fact that "the news" is no longer reported, it is cherry-picked and massaged not for the purpose of actually informing the populace, but to gain ratings. In the world of the 24-hour or even 12-hour news cycle, it is no wonder that reporters may steal from each other. What worries me is that in the rush to get the story out, they don't check their "facts" (stolen or not) to make sure they are the truth. Simply using the word "alleged" before every fact may let the reporter off the hook with respect to lawsuits, but it doesn't let them off the hook with respect to the public.

I'm so tired of having the TV news readers having to add their two cents, their shocked or scornful facial expressions or their shaking heads to every story. I don't care what the reporter's opinion of the story is or what they think is right, wrong or socially acceptable. If I want a reporter's opinion, I will go to the editorial page, otherwise, they need to keep it to themselves and at least try to maintain some level of objectivity when they report the news and report all the news, not just what gets ratings or what falls into their world view.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 5 months ago

One of the worst things to happen to the news-media was the agenda. Once news organizations started pushing agendas rather than reporting facts, all bets were off. A good example happened recently, and NBC is paying the price now. They "selectively edited" George Zimmerman's 911 call before the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Their edit made Zimmerman appear to profile Martin based on Martin's skin color. They edited out the fact that the 911 operator asked Zimmerman if Martin was white, black, or hispanic. But their edit fit their agenda, and it sold more copy. That's the problem...

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kevin 2 years, 5 months ago

Piracy isn't the problem with the news media. Liberalism is the problem. It give us the papers' opinions of the news instead of factual reporting only. This is why I stopped buying paper and magazines. If they ever get back to real journalism, I'll take out a subscription again. Facts are more important than piracy. If this is what they teach nowadays in journalism class,Lord help us all. The sutudents are being brain-washed.

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