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Ian Shapira -- How Gawker Ripped Off My Newspaper Story

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That may be far-fetched. And after all, newspapers aren't entirely unwitting victims; they knew about the Internet very early, knew about the power of the Drudge Report in the 1990s and failed to innovate.

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The Washington Post Web site has successfully sued several media companies, including Total News, Free Republic, GoSMS and Gator Corp., for exploiting Post content (and in several cases, selling ads against Post material). In a statement, Post general counsel Eric N. Lieberman said: "In general, we believe that there is a very important line between appropriate quoting and linking, which contributes to free expression, and inappropriate free-riding, which diminishes free expression."

Recently, the Associated Press announced that it will track illegitimate uses of its articles online; and a California startup, Attributor, has devised a new way for newspapers to share in the ad revenue from any site that copies their articles, although the idea needs cooperation from big ad networks to succeed.

Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, which owns not only Gawker but sports and technology blogs such as Deadspin and Gizmodo, told me that he'd "love to shut down or charge" the Twitter aggregators and spam blogs that reprint his company's stories and headlines. But newspapers, he said, are not sin-free, either. "I'd like newspapers to pay us too, while we're at it," he told me over Gmail chat. "For instance, the New York Post lifted our Deadspin story on [ESPN reporter] Erin Andrews and splashed it on their front page. A brief credit -- but they didn't even link from the web version."

So Denton balks at the appropriation of his reporter's work about the illicit videotaping of a popular sports reporter. But what about Gawker's riff on my Post story?

"That was certainly more of an excerpt than we'd normally indulge in," he said.

* * *

The popular saying in the industry now is that it's important to "save journalism" -- not necessarily newspapers. I agree, but newspapers are still the most common organizations that pay a large staff of reporters, providing them with a living wage, health care and a retirement plan.

Nolan, 29, the Gawker writer, told me he feels he has hit a ceiling in the business. "It used to be that people would get a job at Gawker, do it for a year, then go off and get a great job at New York magazine," Nolan said. "Now those jobs are gone, and I feel like there is nowhere to aspire to. But I'm pretty happy."

Nolan, who is considered an independent contractor, gets paid $4,000 a month, and thanks to Denton's acknowledgement that people should have incentives to make an impact, he gets bonuses for exceeding his Web traffic expectations. Does he see the Catch-22 he's inflicting on himself -- and everyone else? "I don't generally feel bad about doing this. I am trying to put in a highlight reel of the stories. It's like doing movie previews," he said.

After talking with Denton, Nolan and others for this article, I still want a fluid blogosphere, but one where aggregators -- newspapers included -- are more transparent about whom they're heavily excerpting. They should mention the original source immediately. And if bloggers want to excerpt at length, a fee would be the nice, ethical gesture.

So, Gawker, do me a favor. At least blog this piece. I'll even write a headline for you (free of charge). How about: "Whiny WashPost Reporter Makes His Point: Respect the Genuine Article"? Oh -- one other thing. If you sell ads against your posting, can you cut The Post a check?

shapirai@washpost.com

Ian Shapira is a local reporter for The Washington Post who writes about the millennial generation. He will be online to chat with readers at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Submit your questions before or during the discussion.


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