A few quick updates on the exceedingly unpleasant divorce between media blogger Jim Romensko and the Poynter Institute:
• It now appears that Poynter Online editor Julie Moos didn’t merely overreact to an inquiry from the Columbia Journalism Review’s Erika Fry. Instead, she completely misunderstood her. Fry writes that the main thrust of her questions to Moos concerned Poynter’s move toward running longer excerpts on its Romenesko+ blog (now renamed MediaWire). Says Fry:
I raised the questions because I was coming to believe that recent changes in Poynter’s practices, taken together, are not good for journalists, and run counter to the intended spirit of Romenesko’s blog, which was originally designed to give credit and traffic to journalists, not to steal those things from them. I thought these were issues worth discussing, ones that could be easily — and, needless to say, without anyone’s resignation — fixed.
• At Boston.com, old friend Mark Leccese takes a more by-the-books approach than I do to Romenesko’s indifferent use of quotation marks. Mark provokes another thought. Until the last few years, the Romenesko blog did not include bylines for each individual item. Indeed, in this archived example from 2010, you could argue that the attribution was to the originating news organization. Then Poynter redesigned the site, and suddenly every item Romenesko posted included his name and mugshot.
Did that somehow make it seem worse when Moos brought the hammer down last week? I’d argue yes. Romenesko never claimed that anything he posted was original, but including his byline on items may have changed the expectations, at least in Moos’ mind.
• The one issue I keep going back to is Moos’ claim that no one at Poynter knew what Romenesko was up to until she received Fry’s inquiry — several weeks before Romenesko was to retire, and on the verge of his launching his own advertiser-supported blog. That claim is simply not credible, and I continue to hope that we’ll learn more.
There are a lot of good people at Poynter, and the institute is a valuable resource for journalists. I wish them well. But I don’t think Poynter is going to be able to move on until we learn all the details about why they whacked their most valuable employee at a moment when he already had one foot out the door.
• Finally, Romenesko is tweeting media items, and if you’re not following him, you should.
3 thoughts on “Romenesko and the perils of aggregation (II)”
As a “non-professional,” at least in the journalism field, I am appalled at this turn of events. I have visited the Romenesko site several times a day for many years. I have never been confused about “attribution” v. “authorship,” and have always valued his contributions.
The degree of navel-gazing in this case should be embarrassing to the Poynter staff. This is yet another example of a good principle being wantonly misapplied. I don’t blame Romenesko at all for his peremptory reaction, and look forward to changing my list of Favorites.
One of my early reactions to this whole mess was to ask “Who exactly is Julie Moos?” When I looked up her background I was, frankly, surprised. She’s actually had relatively little experience in journalism, aside from a stint as a news writer for a small-market TV station, where she spent much more of her time running the web site.
Other than that, she’s run a couple of “mom” blogs and more recently has blogged on women in politics, as well as writing her pieces for Poynter. Her degrees are both in sociology and her thesis had nothing to do with journalism.
Her apparent misunderstanding of the question CJR was asking, on top of her handling of it, confirms my suspicions that she’s simply in over her head.
I’m on Jim’s side on this one (disclosure: he once advised me on a non-profit journalism project), but it does bring up the issue of how the digital world is forcing new looks at “ownership” — both legal and ethical — of content.
If Jim’s content consisted of a column in a print publication by Poynter, it would likely be presented a bit differently. It certainly would not consist of snippets of the meat of each story with attribution and quotation marks missing.
Move this over to the web and the key difference — links — erases much if not all of the confusion and appearance of plagiarism that my somewhat silly hypothetical raises.
So looking past the unseemly behavior of Julie Moos, this is yet another reminder that while the “old” rules should not be repealed, they can’t survive without change.
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