A ripped-off journalist wishes Rupert well in his crusade against free content

by Christopher Michel

If I could, I’d shake Rupert Murdoch’s hand.

Although Murdoch is not exactly my favorite person in the media, his efforts to curb the parasites killing the hosts … I mean, the Web sites providing free news content … have gained some headway.

Google has announced it will offer some concessions in the ongoing battle of Web sites reposting work produced by other news agencies. Now, news agencies will be able to control the number of articles Internet users can view for free.

Thank the journalism gods.

Since my high school days, I’ve watched the newspaper industry slowly but surely lose readership and money to news Web sites and searches. And as a cub reporter, I’ve had a front-row seat to the struggles my fellow journalists have been contending with since the Internet boom.

A few months back it happened to me.

I work as a reporter at a small paper in Western New York that has been pretty much immune to the effects of the cyber age news revolution – that is, until a few months ago.

During the later portion of last summer, word spread quickly around my coverage area about a major motion picture being filmed locally. It was exciting for many to have Hollywood in their own backyard, even for just a month. And the impact the production of the film would have on the area was something many news outlets foamed at the mouth over, myself included.

Being an enterprising reporter looking to get a real local angle on the production of the movie, I found out a local laundromat was one of several in the area asked to handle laundry for the cast and crew.

So after doing some research, conducting an interview and snapping a few photos, I developed a pretty interesting article, if I do say so myself.

About a week after the piece ran, a similar story popped up on a trade Web site for businesses with coin-operated services. In fact, the piece on the Web site cited my article as a source.

It took a few minutes to sink in.

Initially, I thought it was cool – some offbeat feature piece I wrote was receiving some national attention. And being that I work at a small newspaper, it was even better that someone outside the readership area had taken in interest in my writing.

But then it hit me upon closer reading. The Web site’s writer who became “inspired” by my story had “borrowed” information from my piece, and he certainly took his liberties. He basically accessed my work for free and had his way with it.

The piece on the Web site used nearly all the quotes I gathered doing interviews. It absolutely mimicked my article’s structure. The only thing missing was any mention of my name.

I did all the work for two articles, and only got credit for one. And because the writer did cite my article, there wasn’t too much I could do.

I’ve since made my peace with someone else enjoying the fruits of my labor (and thought about making an angry phone call or two). However, the whole situation just proves to me that as long as the information can be gathered for free, a newspaper is never too big or too small for the parasite – I mean, Internet news source – to snipe content.

I have to give Murdoch a lot of credit for putting himself – and his image – out on the line. I’m sure that bloggers, tweeters and citizen journalists are already tearing him and the traditional media industry apart for not adapting quickly in this digital age.

Murdoch’s victory would just be a beginning. If any effort to get people to pay for their news information is to succeed, then news outlets must act together, quickly. Obviously, there is some headway finally being made to give proper credit and reparations to hard-working reporters. As someone hoping to retire from the newspaper industry, now is the time for publishers to stand up and collectively say no.

Christopher Michel currently works as a cub reporter in Western New York. In addition to working as a full-time journalist, Michel is currently pursuing a masters degree at St. Bonaventure University — his alma mater — in Integrated Marketing Communications.

3 replies »

  1. This isn’t a new phenomenon brought by the digital age. Four decades ago, the local radio station routinely had announcers read my stories right out of my newspaper — leaving out my byline, of course. Various media steal from other media. Rupert won’t be stopping that any time soon.

  2. I was always of the opinion that news has monetary value for exactly 30 seconds…..the time it takes for the market to react to it, After the requisite 30 seconds, all news becomes history. Of course, you should be credited and paid for your work, and I would raise holy hell if it were my intellectual property that was ripped off.


  3. Nice piece, Chris. It’s frustrating, in an age where everyone thinks he/she is a writer because the internet makes it so, that the writers who are actually any good find it harder and harder to make a living at their craft–precisely at a time when their talents are needed the most.