By Jason Menard
While the Internet has made it easier for people all around the world to share their thoughts with the world, it’s also proven the value of learning those basic journalistic that those of us who have written for traditional media learned long ago.
The latest example of the need for stricter attention to these journalistic ideals comes from, unfortunately, a so-called editor who combined a healthy disregard for copyright with an unhealthy level of hubris that has inflicted an immense amount of damage for her publication.
Fittingly, a misinterpretation over what constitutes Land of the Free started over a simple article about apple pie.
I’ll let the author share the grim details, but essentially she found that her article had been republished by a magazine without her consent or knowledge. After a couple of back and forth e-mail exchanges, she then received a stunning response from an editor of the publication, in which it appears the editor is claiming all content on the Internet is free domain, that this is common practice, and – most alarmingly – that the author should, in fact, be paying her for the honour of having the piece rewritten and published.
A quick look at the site’s Facebook page, at the moment, shows the power of the Internet. Who knows how long this will remain up, but thanks to the power of the indignant Web, there are sure to be screen caps for generations to come.
I’ve deliberately left out the name of the publication, but clicking on those links will fill in that blank for you. For one thing, we only have a part of one half of the story. The article’s author states that the comment highlighted on her blog is only a part of the letter from the editor. And we’ve yet to hear a response from either the editor herself or her publication.
But if this is true, then it shows why we must remain vigilant about how we use the Internet for information.
The Internet isn’t public domain. Beyond the legal aspect of copyright law, there’s the simple, basic, human decency that mandates you don’t take something of yours without asking. Stealing wholesale but attributing to the author is only a hair’s breadth better than stealing outright and publishing under your own name – which the editor actually suggests the author should be happy that her publication didn’t do.
So by stealing an article, then publishing it without approval and financial remuneration, this editor has cost her publication plenty in terms of reputation and prestige. The venom being put forth by those leaving comments is probably indicative of the general population – after all, a good rule of thumb is that for every one comment made, there are 10 to 20 people who share similar sentiments but have not chosen to publish them. These people become negative brand ambassadors – sharing the story with their friends, family, and associates and automatically turning the sentiment against the publication.
Not only does it affect the likelihood of potential readers accessing the publication in the future, it also calls into question everything that’s ever been published by them in the past. If this editor’s behaviour is considered acceptable behaviour by the parent company, then that makes you wonder how many articles have been obtained by similar methods in the past? Has content been stolen without the initial author being lucky enough to be made aware of it?
In the end, was the alleged comment made by the editor worth the cost? For under $150, all of this could have been avoided. It’s a price that’s sure to be far less than the damage done to the publication’s reputation and subscriber base if these allegations prove true.
When it comes to corporate communications, one of my top adages that I believe all companies should live by is this: just because you can blog/Tweet/post on Facebook, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Nothing’s more boring than bad corporate writing – and there’s a lot of it. To have a successful social media strategy, you have to have people who are ready, willing, and able to be engaging, entertaining, and committed.
And in addition to having a basic understanding of libel and attribution, they should have a sense of not just journalistic ethics, but basic human decency.