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.