Julie Moos, director of journalism watchdog site Poynter.org, last week rapped famous media aggregator Jim Romenesko for a pattern of “incomplete attribution” in his summaries. The reprimand, noted a sea of critics, was startling in light of the absence of complaints about Romenesko’s work. No one, it appeared, had ever griped about how he wrote up an aggregational summary.
Former Washington Post dining critic Phyllis Richman can explain why. In late 2010, Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila was photographed by an irate restaurateur who posted the shot to the Internet, blowing her cover as a clandestine rater of dining options. The event prompted a lot of attention among media narcissizers.
The Los Angeles Times’ Russ Parsons wrote up an account of the incident. The story included this passgage:
In an interesting twist, my old friend Phyllis Richman, restaurant critic for almost 25 years at the Washington Post (in a city that knows about sleuthing out secrets), suggested that maybe Virbila’s unveiling could be a good thing. Until now, probably the only restaurants that didn’t know what Virbila looked like were the mom-and-pop places that aren’t part of the big-money inner circle. Now, the playing field is level.
In his write-up on the matter, Romenesko handled things this way:
Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons explains: “Until now, probably the only restaurants that didn’t know what [LAT restaurant critic S. Irene] Virbila looked like were the mom-and-pop places that aren’t part of the big-money inner circle. Now, the playing field is level.”
A different treatment here would have helped. Something along the lines of “Phyllis Richman tells the Los Angeles Times that only mom-and-pop restaurants didn’t know....” At the time, Richman took note of her exclusion from the chain of custody on those thoughts. So what did she do about it? Send in a complaint?
Not even close. “These things happen and he always goes to great length to give credit,” says Richman. “You know, I still think he’s a hero.”
Important point: This episode is different from the violation that Moos outlined last week, which was that Romenesko had failed to put quotation marks around text that’d been pulled from stories that he was aggregating. In this case, says Richman, Romenesko just “missed the intervening step.” “No harm, no foul,” as Jack Shafer would say.