Home > Blogroll, Rants and Raves > The Changing Face of Journalistic Ethics in Blogging

The Changing Face of Journalistic Ethics in Blogging

I have noticed that a number of bloggers have made it a habit of creating posts that are mostly if not entirely lifted from another blogger’s creative work. On a number of occasions it is my creative work that has been lifted. This is improper.

My first experience with this was with the response to my article Delayed Cord Clamping Should be Standard Practice in Obstetrics. After I wrote this article, a lot of other bloggers linked to it in support. This was appreciated. What was not appreciated were the bloggers who completely copied my post and posted it on their own blog, such as the posts at the Birth Balance Blog and Full Circle Midwifery. These posts are not alone, as this article was entirely copied in at least 5 locations. In some cases these posts refer to me and my original post, while some make it look like I wrote the piece entirely for their blog, without reference to the original post at all. While I recognize that the reposting represents some kind of admiration of my work, it is still a violation of copyright, and is not acceptable behavior.

My second experience with this is somewhat different, with a blogger copying my work in order to criticize it. At her anti-choice / pro-life blog, Jill Stanek created a post that is predominantly copied from my post Why Pro-choice is Losing and from a post from Ms Taylor Marsh at the Huffington post. Of the 645 words Ms Stanek posted, only 100 were her own, and of those 100 only 28 were editorial in nature. 372 words were lifted directly my post, and 204 were lifted from Ms Marsh’s post. Interspersed with my words were images that I never intended to be associated with my content.  In this case it appears that she was trying to draw the attention of her audience to my creative work, but rather than creating editorial around small bits of the work she chose to entirely copy the work of others. This is also a violation of copyright.

We have a doctrine of Fair Use, which allows small bits of copyrighted work to be used for editorial purposes. This doctrine also allows other violations of copyright, such as copying a CD to MP3 in order to listen to it in another format. But what we are seeing in these examples is not Fair Use. One blogger in question has defended themselves claiming that they did reference my name and give a link to the original post. This is not an adequate defense. One cannot entirely copy another’s creative work and then make it ok by telling everyone where it came from. This is like being asked to give a speech and then reciting another’s work, and then saying where they got it from.

This is a common problem in blogging, and I think it should stop. Editorials are there to editorialize, not to quote. One can look at the editorials from any newspaper, magazine, or article and see that they are 99% editorial and 1% quote. Even book reviews quote very sparsely from the content being reviewed, if at all.

When a blogger copies another’s work, they are using the creative work of another person to draw traffic to their own blog. In some cases, this theft of traffic can amount to actual financial damages. In the cases of most blogs which don’t generate much income (like mine), this damage is more theoretical than real. The thing that is worse is that it just lazy. Rather than doing actual creative work some bloggers are just stealing the creative work of others. It doesn’t matter if they do this to support the cause of the original blogger or to detract from it – its the same thing.

A lot has been said about the degradation of journalistic ethics in blogging. Some have claimed that bloggers do not fall under the purview of journalistic ethics, as they are not journalists. We have changed to a world where we no longer require reliable sources prior to posting news, and in many cases this has led to inaccurate news reporting. Sadly, traditional media has followed suit in many cases, as they are afraid to be scooped by the cybermedia. This is all a big shame.

The growth of social media is quickly leading to a world where traditional media finds it difficult to remain financially viable. It is said that “when the paradigm shifts, everyone starts at zero”. That does seem to be the case here. While the social media paradigm shift has opened up great opportunities for new talent to succeed, it also brings in a host of new content creators that lack the journalistic background to understand the accepted ethics of producing news and editorial content (including myself.) In many cases, I welcome what social media brings, but in this case I do not. Social media and blogs that focus on producing news and editorial content needs to follow a similar code of ethics as the code that ruled traditional media. Blogging and social media are powerful tools from spreading information, but if they are used without any editorial restraint they cause harm.

Just as social media and internet is allowing people to learn things about medicine that previously could not be easily accessed, people need to use this resource to understand what the traditional ethics of journalism are. I would love to see a website explaining what these ethics are, sponsored by whatever guild covers the work of journalists.

As this issue has bothered me for a bit, I have decided to take some action. I have asked all bloggers who have copied my work without permission to remove it from their blogs. In cases that they wish to continue to reference my work, I have asked them to replace the en toto work with editorial content regarding the work, including Fair Use consistent quotations, along with a link to the original source.

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Categories: Blogroll, Rants and Raves
  1. April 15, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Hi Dr. Fogelson,

    Thanks for this great post. For me, at my small liberal arts college, you could get kicked out of school permanently for misquoting or not citing properly. We would sign an honor code at the top of all papers and tests and our exams were never proctored. I can only hope that if a bunch of 18 year olds were able to uphold this kind of integrity, that it would be common sense for full grown adults on the internet. I hope that this plagarism is merely lack of knowledge and not blunt ignorance of copywright. And I’m sorry you got ripped off. But, it still is flattering.

  2. Aly
    April 15, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    With her typing fingers on the pro-life pulse… regretting reading that.

    Hopefully bloggers with ethics will remove your piece after this request.

  3. pinky
    April 15, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    It is sad, isn’t it. It makes me think, though. I sometimes present research articles that I have read that day. I always give the author and the title of the work. I do this because of what you said but also folks need to be able to look the original source up to see what they think. Sometimes I think I should ask permission from the authors. However, that would take much more time and I would never get around to discussing the article at all.

    • April 16, 2010 at 4:39 am

      Pinky – presenting research articles is a great thing to do, and referencing the authors is quite appropriate. Ultimately though, your presentation is going to be mostly your editorial opinion of the articles, and when you are presenting their data you typically are rewording it for oral presentation, not just republishing their work. I don’t think you need to ask permission to present somebody’s elses article in an academic forum, as this is very much a part of the academic process. In fact, the number of written references a paper recieves is one of the ways a written article’s importance is measured.

  4. April 16, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Wow. I’m really sorry that this happened. I’m disappointed!

    Thank you for all of your hard work with your blog, podcast, and updates. Your entries are always insightful and help me want to become a more knowledgeable and overall better OBGYN. I recommend your blog and podcast to every OBGYN that I meet. Please don’t get discouraged and keep up the awesome work!

  5. mkirschmd
    April 17, 2010 at 8:36 am

    I have also had this experience of finding ‘ectopic’ versions of my blog posts. Thanks for the alert. I certainly don’t believe that the original blogger’s permission is necessary to quote or repost the piece. But clearly, the work should be properly attributed. Obviously, this practice is widespread as we only discover the tip of a deeply submerged iceberg. http://www.MDWhistleblower.blogspot.com

  6. N Fogelson
    April 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    >> I certainly don’t believe that the original blogger’s permission is necessary to quote or repost the piece

    Mike – interesting that you say that. I am somewhat surprised. Would you not be somewhat put off if I took one of the Whistleblower pieces and completely reposted it here without getting permission? Even if I put your name on it, I would still be providing your content to my viewers, and thus gaining potential traffic from your intellectual work. There is nothing like this in the traditional press that is like this, and I don’t think it should occur in blogs either.

    For example, if a newspaper publishes an original story, another paper cannot just republish it without the permission of the first paper. This is because the first paper has an implied copyright on everything they publish. The same implied copyright exists in blogging as well, it just isn’t always followed.

    Now if I found something interesting in one of your pieces and wanted to write something of my own about that piece, I think its acceptable to take a few quotes from your piece, clearly credit them to you, and then editorialize around it. But when the vast majority of my piece is made up of your intellectual work, that’s just theft.

  7. mkirschmd
    April 18, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Nick, thanks for responding. I have found my pieces, or several paragraphs of posts, on other blogs under someone else’s byline. No controversy here as to the impropriety of this practice. I do not view the blogosphere, however, as a place with inviolable walls separating my posts from yours. When I link to another blog post, I do not seek permission to do so. Of course, I always attribute such material to the creator. Only once, did I repost someone else’s post as a ‘Whistleblower’, and I did secure permission in advance from the author and noted this in introducing the post. I felt more comfortable doing this, but I don’t think this should be a mandatory process. Indeed, I have seen my own stuff reposted -with proper credit- on other blogs, and this does not offend me. In these cases, the blogger is often supporting or criticizing my view, or juxtaposing my post against someone else’s to give readers two sides of an issue. To me, the blogosphere is a loose confederation of bloggers. I don’t think we need permission to borrow stuff, although it is courteous to do so. The key in my mind is crediting the author for his work. This is equivalent to using footnotes in traditional publication. The quoted author need not be contacted, only credited. Your view?

  8. April 18, 2010 at 2:49 am

    Mike – I think the issue is whether or not the purpose of the repost is editorial in nature, and whether or not the reposter is predominantly creating a new work rather than reposting anothers work. Linking to somebody not only ok, but is appreciated as outside links draw more traffic to the blog, and improve google page rank.

    For example if Y blog completely reposts X blog’s post, there is very little reason for the person seeing this post at Y blog to ever go to X blog. Also Y is generating traffic from Xs intellectual work. In fact, if Y ends up getting outside links to the repost and the underlying page rank of his blog is higher than X, a google search might put the lifted post above the original. If Y instead takes some small excerpts from X and makes meaningful commentary in that new post, Y creates traffic for themselves by creating real additional content, and at the same time drives traffic to the original.

    Another issue is a question of where the dialogue is going to be. If X writes something provocative, they have the reasonable expectation that the main comment thread is going to be at their blog. If Y borrows the post, now its going on somewhere else. It would be nice if there was a way to merge ectopic comment threads to prevent this.

    Then again, copyright has pretty much gone out the window for music and movies, so maybe the same thing is happening with text as well.

  9. April 18, 2010 at 2:52 am

    Mike – what if somebody else started downloading my podcast and retransmitting it on another rss feed? Would that be ok? It would seem wrong. On the other hand, maybe I’m completely crazy about this. Colbert Report and John Stewart were made popular because of unauthorized reposting of their material on video sites. Vivendi has been fighting it like crazy, and the geek community generally thinks vivendi is crazy to be doing this, as it is the source of the popularity of the show.

  10. mkirschmd
    April 18, 2010 at 6:43 am

    Nick, my friends call me Michael! I think we are in basic agreement here. We all know the difference between citing work and appropriating it. Some bloggers step over the line, but there is no remedy or means to avoid this. The rest of us will try do the right thing. While our work is our own, it’s not like we are a commercial enterprise where economic interests are at stake.

  11. StatlerWaldorf
    April 18, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    mkirschmd, Nicholas makes good points that are relevant to the blogging environment. You are correct that there may be no way to avoid every incidence, it shouldn’t stop bloggers from improving their ethics. If enough people complain and track their work and ask for proper credit and citation, then it will become more of a standard practice. In academia, plagiarism is unacceptable and has severe consequences. It is very disappointing to see some people who seem to have academic degrees plagiarising others’ works here in the blogosphere.

    If any of the plagiarisers are reading these comments, shame on you! Give proper credit, and never repost someone else’s whole articles without asking permission. Their work belongs on their own site, and your own work belongs on yours.

  12. Angela Horn
    April 22, 2010 at 1:07 am

    You are right to be angry about this; how can you retain any editorial control over your work if you do not know where it is reproduced? I do not allow articles from my website to be published on other sites in their entirety, because in future I may wish to amend them. I want to make sure that the article is viewed complete with any updates and amendments that I consider necessary – if I make a mistake, I want to be able to correct it. If people are copying the entire article then it could be very difficult to track it down and ensure that the correct version was used. Quoting from an article is fine – although a link back to the original, and proper attribution, is essential. I don’t really understand what genuine reason anyone would have for reproducing your blog post on their site anyway – it is an attempt to give their blog useful content, but a simple link to your own site would provide the reader with the same information as well as the opportunity to read follow-up comments. The sites you’ve mentioned regarding the cord clamping post are clearly fans of yours and probably just didn’t realise that this was bad netiquette.

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