Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cut and Paste "Journalism" on Local Web Sites

It's a tough time to be a writer. On the one hand, anyone can set up a blog and get exposure. In that respect, it is far easier than the days before the internet.

It's making the jump to being a paid writer that is most difficult. The same internet that makes writing and publishing so easy is changing the landscape for newspapers and magazines. On the positive side, no one can monopolise the flow of information. Between talk radio and bloggers of like mind, it is possible to create a sense of community. Perhaps a trend will develop of the blogging world interacting with the print media.

But the world of journalism has yet to absorb the impact of the internet. As a "labour conservative", I have mixed emotions when I see newspapers laying off journalists. On the one hand, the thought of people saying "no thank you" to liberal bias and turning to alternative media is encouraging. On the other hand, journalism is work also. I like to see those in the journalism profession paid a living wage. These days, that is a tall order to fill.

There is one way that the internet has unfairly damaged the journalism profession, and that is "cut and paste" journalism. In more than one occasion, I have gone to web sites that have a mixture of local, international and world news. The local news might be written by writers for the site. National and world news, however along with a chunk of city coverage is articles lifted from beginning to end from established newspapers. If they were to take an excerpt or two from a regular paper and make the rest of the article commentary and rephrasing, it would be fair enough. But these are sites that may have a fine print notation citing the original source. Sometimes, they don't even do that.

The effect this has on the web sites that draw from other sources is corrosive. Without providing any new stories, they make it possible to read an entire story from beginning to end without clicking on the original article. If they had an opening paragraph with a lead over to the original site, they would be helping the writer and his employer get more hits on their articles. Instead, they divert traffic from the original articles. If these were sites that were academic or non profit, then it would at least remove the component of greed. But these sites frequently sell their own advertising to local businesses. These site sites employ a core staff that manages business and gathering (cutting and pasting) news. These same sites will not pay a dime to local authors who write original material within the bounds of fair use guidelines. Uneducated readers enjoy a wide array of news that others toil over for hours and for which the site owner has paid nothing. But if you take a picture or a video from their site, even if you link back to their site, they will fire off an angry e-mail demanding that you remove the offending material. Their attitude seems to be "What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine." These sites are studded with ads for which the owners get paid good money, yet they begrudge writers struggling to earn a living any sort of remuneration.

These sites will refuse to pay you a dime for your articles, burying their citations of source in fine print. Even helping you get recognition as a writer is too much for them. Yet they sell ads to local merchants, and make a decent living. Without having to even pay freelancers, the overhead is minimal.

It is very frustrating competing in this cutthroat environment. As much as I may be annoyed by liberal bias in the news media, I feel great sympathy and solidarity with journalists who are being hurt in this business environment.

The next phase of the evolution of cyber journalism will be when professionals and aspiring professionals can band together and make a fair living for hours of hard work.

P2P web sites threw a monkey wrench into the music industry. Cut and paste "journalism" is doing the same to aspiring writers. The same internet that is giving writers a platform is strangling them as well. I wish there were a way to fight back. I'm fighting gentlemen's rules in a ring where dirty fighting is the order of the day. I'll try to hang in there. But it's not easy.

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