What rules have I broken?
And yet…this leads me to more questions:
Is this journalism, bloggism, or lazy content distributionism? Or is it simply repurposing of content – good, no, great content – so it can spread through a network and gain more traction, essentially a win-win for everyone?
By: Meredith Fineman, Principal, FinePoint PR
The recent shakeup at Brightest Young Things over its Spring and Summer Music Guide (namely, if and how sections of the 12,000+ piece were plagiarized) has brought many questions to light over journalistic standards in the 21st century.
Wait. Are there standards?
We have an issue here. Clearly, attributing work from elsewhere to your own name doesn’t fall within ethics standards. However, should young writers, who have taken it upon themselves to create sites and blogs, learn to stand by rules that are not only antiquated, but quite blurry?
In an age where everything is ripped, repurposed, repackaged, and tweeted, it can be impossible to know what is right or wrong. A site like BYT is a cultural denizen, yet is it a journalistic entity? Many would argue yes, with an avid and enviable readership. Some would argue no, it’s a blog. And if we’re in the blog world now, what are the rules?
I fell into a different sort of debacle when I began Girls Aren’t Funny, a repository of female humor writing. Those who cannot do, aggregate, and so I decided to assemble great pieces of humor from women around the web (not that easy to find). The Rumpus chewed me out on Twitter for putting full articles of theirs on my site. To clarify – everything was attributed and linked, but I didn’t know you couldn’t put a full piece (even with attribution), technically, without consent. I wouldn’t want my own pieces like this, but with an attribution, I’d probably be fine with it. Those are my own standards, but there are no standards for someone like me to follow.
Fashion blogs get murky too – according to the FTC, bloggers are required to disclose when they are being paid or gifted clothing. Some do, and some don’t. It’s confusing to readers, though a more trained blog reader will know. Not to mention, many of the links on the blogs are from RStyle, a genius platform in which a blogger gets compensated for the sales he or she draws in. There has yet to be a lawsuit for nondisclosure, but I think that there is that risk.
What is even considered a media outlet anymore?
As a publicist, I pitch to bloggers and other online sites that might consider themselves blogs and not journalistic entities, but I value them as much as a print or television media hit. These sites have exploding traffic and a highly engaged audience. I also consider social media numbers to be facets of media outlets. But whose standards should we compare them against? There has to be somewhere in the middle for young and ambitious writers, who have decided to create their own version of the paper.
It’s clear that the journalistic landscape looks more like a Dali painting – with blurred edges, and sure, a dripping clock for some print publications. Their time is certainly numbered. But this flux leaves a dearth of guidance for standards of writing, attribution, and quotes. As a journalism cherub at Medill at Northwestern the summer before my senior year of high school, my friends and I ran around thinking up ledes, drafting pieces by typewriter, and being sure to end stories with -30-, something that means very little to very few.
In the world of the aggregate, the retweeted, how do we make sure that there are new standards of ethics? There is common sense, and then there are rules like the AP Style book. I’m sure 95% of writers these days haven’t read AP Style. We can’t be held to outdated standards about margins. As we write our own paths, sites, newsletters, we need to be writing the rules too.