In case you missed it, there was a big to-do this weekend between the Washington Post and Gawker. Post reporter Ian Shapira wrote a long (whiny) post about how Gawker "stole" one of his articles. For reference, here is the original piece, and here is Gawker's commentary.
First off, let's agree about what Gawker "did." They took a moderately interesting news piece, summarized it, and added some commentary. Gawker also provided several links to the Post article, as well as the "citation" at the bottom indicating the source. This is not plagiarism, and I don't believe it's theft, either. Is it theft when a comedian comments on the news? What about the Daily Show or the Tonight Show? If they re-tell a news story and add in jokes, are they ripping off the reporter?
A majority of blogs (this one included) exist to provide (ideally) an original take on what's going on in the world. Of course bloggers are going to refer to and comment on the news. However, the news isn't competing with blogs for the humor or insight audience. Perhaps the op-ed page is a little bit, but news is news. People read a newspaper for news, they read blogs for commentary. I doubt there are a whole lot of people who stopped visiting the Post's web site (or cancelled their subscriptions) because they can get their share of real news from Gawker.
For the Post to dedicate a whole story to a reporter's ire of Gawker is embarrassing, to say the least. This isn't a Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair sized incident. Furthermore, the Post doesn't even know what the hell is going on in their own office--with their communications staff forwarding links to Gawker for republishing! Shapira complains that blogs are going to destroy newspapers, because blogs capitalize on the hard work of reporters such as himself. He then makes a whole bunch of wishy-washy points and eventually concedes that Gawker got his article more pageviews. In the end, he has no point except that he is a little upset a blog talked about his article.
Are newspapers a vital resource for news and actual reporting? Absolutely. Do newspapers actually believe this and prioritize appropriately? Absolutely not. There are so many arenas in which newspapers, hands down, defeat blogs and other online-only outlets. It's called pounding the pavement and getting the story. Breaking the news and writing important features used to be the bread and butter. Sadly, newspapers have no idea what they want to do now that they've grown up, so they try to be everything. The Post, for example, decides to dedicate time and money to a blog about swimming. Blogs are not to blame for the downfall of 'traditional media,' and we all know it. Newspapers failed to adapt to the Internet, and they are paying for it.
The Post can't keep young talent, they flee to the blogs and other, more nimble media outlets. It's time for management to realize they have to refocus their efforts to producing a product that the market (including the Internet) demands, and that they can produce using their skilled resources (and clout). I'm no business guru here, but I think the comment by Ian Shapira's editor sums up nicely the problems at the Post. The editor said, "they stole your story. Where's your outrage, man?" That shows just how out of touch with the Internets of 2009 that editor is. I imagine that's not an isolated case.
So where is the news headed? In the direction of a stupid fantasy land, likely. The AP and other large media organizations are struggling to figure out how to 'protect' their reporting. Here's a plan by the AP (along with some humorous commentary, sadly not written by me, but found via Twitter):
Good luck with that one, guys. While you are at it, maybe if you wrap some tinfoil around your fax machines they will become modernized telecommunications devices that can compete with iPhones and Blackberries. Oh nevermind, we'll just completely redesign the Internet around the AP's needs. That's clearly the best solution for all involved.
So yes, traditional media, continue griping about how the future is destroying you. When you feel like dedicating some of your time and (dwindling) resources to figuring out how to compete with the world you actually live in, we'll all be here waiting for you.