The Stealing Wars: What’s Good for Gawker Is Good for WaPo’s Slate

While a number of bloggers think Ian Shapira is a big baby, I think he’s got a point. He shows how Gawker took a story he worked eight hours on and–with 30 to 60 minutes of work–used much of his story for a post.

Sharpira’s got a point for two reasons. First, the Gawker post in question practiced god-awful linking etiquette–taking big chunks of Shapria’s story and only at the end posting a link to the WaPo. And it didn’t add much to the story. Gawker did do what it does best–wrapping the appropriate layer of snark around the abursdities or the world otherwise presented as serious. But it did use a whole lot of Shapira’s interview in the process.

But what Shapira is complaining–rightly–about is that Gawker, a creature of the internet world, did not use good etiquette according to the internet world’s rules. Curiously, though, while he did note that bloggers, too, make news,

And that wild world is killing real reporting — the kind of work practiced not just by newspapers but by nonprofits, some blogs and other news outlets.

… He didn’t acknowledge that the WaPo at times does not itself always credit those it steals stories from (not even after Nick Denton pointed out that even when newspapers lift Gawker’s stories and credit them, they never give hot links). In other words, this bad etiquette thing is a two-way street, and newspapers have their own share of bad etiquette. (Incidentally, Eric Lieberman, WaPo’s General Counsel quoted in the story, admitted to me several years ago that his office followed FDL’s liveblog religiously during the Scooter Libby trial, and not the work of the three WaPo reporters also reporting full time from the court house. We didn’t get paid for prepping WaPo to represent its five reporters testifying at the trial. But that’s because FDL hadn’t figured out how to monetize the best coverage from the trial. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it–what comes around goes around?) 

But Shapira absolutely does not make the case when he glibly says Gawker is hurting the WaPo, when his evidence actually shows it is possible to make money online, but that for some reason WaPo can’t monetize the links others give it.

Even if I owe Nolan for a significant uptick in traffic, are those extra eyeballs helping The Post’s bottom line?

More readers are better than fewer, of course. But those referring links — while essential to our current business model — aren’t doing much, ultimately, to stop our potential slide into layoffs and further contraction. Worse, some media experts believe that Gawker and its ilk, with their relatively low overhead, might be depressing online ad revenue across the board. That makes it harder for news-gathering operations to recoup their expenses.

The Post just completed its fourth round of buyouts since 2003; and although the company reported on Friday that it had returned to profitability in the second quarter, the newspaper division, which is pretty much us, continues losing money. Standard & Poor’s expects that the company’s gross earnings will drop by 30 percent this year. Gawker Media, on the other hand, reported last week that its revenues in the first two quarters of 2009 were up 45 percent from the first two quarters of last year.

There are a number of things that contribute to the difference: As I said, Gawker treats things that should be treated with snark with snark, whereas WaPo all too often refuses to piss in the Village. WaPo has five levels of so-called fact checkers and editors who–often as not–contribute nothing to the quality of the work. WaPo is apt to send three reporters out on a story that might merit one. WaPo wastes money producing videos no one finds funny so it can extend the focus on trivia rather than news (note to WaPo: this is not what I meant by pissing in the Village!). WaPo has a nice big building in downtown DC.

There are a lot of reasons why WaPo’s newspaper is losing revenue while Gawker is increasing revenue, and Gawker’s use of others’ content is just one factor in it. The other factors sure would make an interesting discussion, but Shapira doesn’t seem interested in having it.

But the most amusing part of Shapira’s column is this part:

Gawker was the second-biggest referrer of visitors to my story online. (No. 1 was the "Today’s Papers" feature on Slate, which is owned by The Post.) 

Here’s the original work Slate wrapped around its limited quote from Shapira’s story:

Feel like getting mad this morning? Then head on over to the WP‘s Style page to once again see how there’s never a shortage of people finding, um, creative ways to make money. And people gullible enough to hand over their hard-earned cash.

Totally fair use, good etiquette–proof the WaPo Corporation can exercise good internet etiquette when it puts its mind to it. What’s amusing, though, is that (by my count) 756 words out of 1136 in that column derive from other newspapers: NYT, LAT, WSJ, and USA Today. Surely, Daniel Politi, who wrote the column, spent only 30 minutes or so per source appropriating the work of each of the other reporters, just as Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan did. And yet there Slate-owned-by-the-WaPo is, doing precisely what Shapira complains Gawker is doing, placing ads right next to content it appropriated from other reporters: A ginormous Economist ad and what appears to be an ad for an ABC station.

Shapira has a point about this particular instance of Gawker’s abuse of etiquette. But he misses all the ways that this information economy is a multiple-directional exchange, one the WaPo is as happy to engage in as Gawker.

Update: Gender corrected! Thanks to Civilibertarian for setting me straight. And apologies to Shapira.

  1. NelsonAlgren says:

    But she misses all the ways that this information economy is a multiple-directional exchange, one the WaPo is as happy to engage in as Gawker.

    And I bet she won’t even realize it until someone emails and tells her(meaning about Slate).

  2. anwaya says:

    The advertising at Slate is individually targeted: I get ads for credit cards I don’t want and mobile phones I don’t need on the “Today’s Papers” page.

    Speaking of which – would it be possible for people who contributed to the EW fundraiser to see the blog without ads? Slashdot offers this as an incentive to potential subscribers.

    • Waccamaw says:

      Speaking of which – would it be possible for people who contributed to the EW fundraiser to see the blog without ads? Slashdot offers this as an incentive to potential subscribers.

      Good question, that!

      • BoxTurtle says:

        The ads on this site are very easy to block, should you choose to do so. Normally, I only block ad servers that slow things done or set tracking cookies and nothing has done that to me here for awhile.

        To kill the only ads I’m currently seeing here, add to your hosts file.

        To our advertisers here: I’m grateful that you’ve chosen to support this site and that’s no bull. I’ve made a couple of purchases from the ads here and I’ll probably make more. But if you insist on setting tracking cookies, slowing me down or use those accursed popups or popunders expect to be blocked.

        Boxturtle (And expect me to share howto’s with others)

      • PJEvans says:

        I took that list of ad-supplier URLs from the other day and fed it to the ad-blocking part of my security/antivirus program (it’s under ‘content filtering’). Works pretty well; they also have a ‘white list’, where you can put sites that you don’t mind the ads from.
        This is the list:
        ::1 localhost

        • bobschacht says:

          In Firefox, it looks like these controls are under Tools/Options/Content/Exceptions. There you can specify which websites are allowed to load images. I think what I’ll try is that whenever my browser hangs on a website, I’ll add that website to my exceptions list, and see how that works.

          N.B.: I donate regularly to the Marcy Wheeler support fund.

          Bob in HI

  3. Rayne says:

    Interesting. I can’t open Gawker’s site, takes forever. Tried a bunch of different links, can’t open them under two minutes. Makes me wonder what kind of tech geniuses they have on board. (Oh, wait, the site opened — and lo, there’s an ad for their tech team. Jeebus, it’s a post, I suppose I have to count this as real and unique content…)

    They certainly don’t have any geniuses when it comes to doing real journalism; can you think of a Gawker story which you’ve remembered and re-quoted, excerpted or referred to for reference which was really unique and original content not warmed over and served up with a gloss of snark?

    They also expend a considerable amount of time nagging and whining about Ariana Huffington’s business model at HuffPo — yet they are apparently doing the same kind of work, relying on other bloggers’ original content aggregated under their own brand. At least HuffPo does have some original content not found anywhere else, even if it has a heavy-weighting towards celebrity.

    The only saving grace for Gawker is its cohabitation with Gizmodo and Lifehacker; typically only visit those two sites on a regular basis, because they are the only ones which might have unique content on a consistent basis.

      • Rayne says:

        Yeah, they spend a lot of energy on whining about HuffPo’s compensation strategy for bloggers, but then they obviously don’t invest enough in tech people.

        In spite of having five out of the top ten most popular sites according to Sitemeter — and one of them being a technology site.

        That’s the last thing a tech site should be is piss-poor at technology.

        • masaccio says:

          If you want to see serious slow, try finding out about the Ford Taurus on their site, or the Mini Cooper or the Chevy Malibu. I’ll never go back.

  4. dakine01 says:

    But but but, I thought bloggers were all supposed to be sitting in their parents basements, eating Cheetos and making stuff up. /s

  5. NCDem says:

    One aspect of this media “borrowing” of others stories that I find most distasteful relates to the effort on behalf of the online papers to build up the story with their own sensationized titles.

    I have been following the story line of Daniel Boyd from NC near Raleigh where I am located. One, I have been amazed thus far at the lack of clarity in the charges against him. All they have given me thus far is the phrase “violent jihad”.

    There was a story today about Daniel written by Mandy Locke, Josh Shaffer, and Yonat Shimron. In four different papers, the lead titles have been:

    The Many Sides of Daniel Boyd- Charlotte Observer
    The Jihadist Nest Door?- The State in Colombia, SC
    Friends Confused after Neighbor’s Terrorism Charges- Sun News, Myrtle Beach
    Contrasts Veil Terrorist Suspect- News & Observer-Raleigh

    Look at the headlines and get very different viewpoints.

  6. Peterr says:

    this bad etiquette thing is a two-way street, and newspapers have their own share of bad etiquette.

    A sign of the WaPo’s problems in this area is what appears to be their own internal “style sheet” that says virtually every link should go only to the WaPo’s search engine, and not to the item being mentioned in the story.

    Even when they want to refer you to another story at the WaPo, they don’t bother to look up the story itself and link to it, but send you to the search engine.

    The few exceptions are folks like Howie Kurtz and (formerly) Dan Froomkin — both of whom understand how the internet works. It’s only a WAG, but I’d bet that Froomkin probably railed once or twice about this with The Powers That Be, futilely trying to get them to understand that the internet is not simply printing with electrons instead of ink.

    • Rayne says:

      WaPo doesn’t seem to grok that their linking to their own search engine is an obvious prop of traffic; are they really quite as well trafficked as the numbers report if a sizable number of hits are merely self-referential?

      They also don’t appear to grok link-love in this new attention economy; being generous is important to cultivating unpaid promotion via other sites.

      Examples of traditional brick-and-mortar newspaper mindset trying and failing to migrate to the internet-mediated world. They think that sending you to read content outside of their “paper” means you won’t come back, that you’ll actually take your quarters and pop them into another paper’s vending machine on the internet. Really ignorant, old school attitude and behavior.