Good on Erika Fry.
An assistant editor at Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), Fry had kept an eye on journalism-industry aggregation site Poynter.org. She noticed some untoward things. And being an assistant editor at CJR, Fry set out to produce a story on the matter.
Also being an assistant editor at CJR, Fry approached Poynter honcho Julie Moos in textbook fashion. She sent Moos an e-mail that outlined a bunch of examples of questionable attribution on the Poynter site, some of them involving Poynter eminence Jim Romenesko.
That was yesterday. They set up an interview for this afternoon.
Then Fry lost custody of her scoop. As all journalism insiders now know, Poynter wrote a story today that stemmed from Fry’s reporting:
Though information sources have always been displayed prominently in Jim’s posts and are always linked at least once (often multiple times), too many of those posts also included the original author’s verbatim language without containing his or her words in quotation marks, as they should have.
Moos was careful and polite enough to attribute the scoop:
Thanks to the sharp eye of Erika Fry, an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, I now know that Jim Romenesko’s posts exhibit a pattern of incomplete attribution.
One sharp-eyed observer, Choire Sicha at the Awl, notes an omission in this particular attribution:
Moos is also too coy. She learned of all this “thanks to the sharp eye of Erika Fry, an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.” What she meant was that Fry is working on a story about Romenesko and attribution, and so Moos went to publish first. I found that attribution a little incomplete.
Indeed, Moos would have complied more fully with the Poynter ethos if she’d written: “In producing this post, I am in effect appropriating and preempting Fry’s story.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. When asked about the move, Moos noted,
As soon as I read closely through Erika’s email my first obligation was to Jim and to our readers and to the Institute. Everything I did from the point of discovery was driven by those obligations and continues to be. So, yes, I dealt with the most pressing issues first — what happened, how did it happen, what will happen next. And then I let Erika know as soon as I had done those things publicly.
Right here, in the heart of Journoethicsville, the hard reality of newsgathering reveals itself. Fry was sending Moos a set of on-the-record questions. On-the-record binds on both parties — the questions from Fry and the (eventual) answers from Moos. That means that Moos is perfectly entitled to use the questions for her own purposes, which she proceeded to do.
Reporters worry about this dynamic all the time, whenever they have a scoop on the local utility or a politician or a celebrity. Those subjects have the media savvy to preempt the reporter, leak the story and wrap it in their own spin. Best to have the story all dressed up before making that final request for comment, a consideration for Fry the next time she’s got a bombshell for Moos.
Fry isn’t too excited about the turn of events: “I’m not sure exactly how I feel,” she says. “I mean, I still plan to write something and it’s a broader story, so in some ways I kind of wish I had written my story first.”
No need to hang your head, Fry. This is your story, as Poynter somewhat acknowledged. An audience now awaits a link.