Backtracking From The Huffington Post To Original Source Of The Auto-Correct Murder Case

A sad and strange story — a man in the UK killed after a text was misread as saying “nutter.” Even stranger, how I came to be reading it via the Huffington Post — several sources removed from the original story. My discovery chain.

I follow the Huffington Post’s tech account on Twitter, so I saw the story hit my Twitter feed, as shown above. That took me to the Huffington Post’s article:

Here, I see from where the first arrow points that the Huffington Post seems to be summarizing a CNET article. But then, there’s a Daily Mail reference, as the second arrows shows. Oddly, the third arrow shows the Huffington Post shoving some of the story into what appears to be an ad box — which contains one of those misleading acai berry ads I wrote about. Sigh, Huffington Post, sigh.

I suspected that the CNET article itself was drawing from the Daily Mail, so I headed to CNET next:

The arrow shows how the Daily Mail is cited, making me think it was indeed the original source for CNET. But notice the box — the story itself is attributed to the UK’s Bolton News. Hang on to that.

Off to the Daily Mail. I hate going there because the Daily Mail used one of my images without permission and is still using it after I contacted them. Anyway, what did the Daily Mail write?

If you read the story, it seems like there’s more going on that just a single word that got corrected that lead to the murder. A string of abusive messages is said to have been exchanged between the two men. The person convicted of manslaughter was actually the person who sent the “nutter” message, not the person who received it.

But beyond that, notice the arrow. The Bolton News is again cited — the Daily Mail appears to have done nothing here but work off the Bolton News report.

As for the Bolton News, while it was credited by the Daily Mail –  and then again by the News.com — it got a link in neither place. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post doesn’t bother to credit it at all.

As it turns out, the original story is online. It wasn’t hard for me to find it. I went to the Bolton News, searched for the victim’s name and found it along with several others.

Bottom line? It’s can be difficult to draw the line between fair use. The Bolton News is published by Gannett’s Newsquest Media Group. Maybe Associated Newspapers’ Daily Mail has an agreement to use anything from Gannett. I doubt it. A quick scan suggests that the Daily Mail merely rewrote what the Bolton News published, which was kind of sucky — but even that might not be against fair use.

What really sucks is that the Daily Mail gave the Bolton News no backlink. This is the 2010s, folks — you link back. And if News.com if working off the Daily Mail’s rewrite — at least try to find the original source, since the Daily Mail cited it.

As for you, Huffington Post. You’re all growed up and part of AOL now. You should backtrack to the original source as well — and provide a link.

It’s not always easy to track an original source, especially when a story has gone far and wide. I know. I deal with this all the time at Search Engine Land. But we should all try — and it wasn’t even hard to do, in this case.

Also see my past post: How The Mainstream Media Stole Our News Story Without Credit.


Comments

  1. Jennifer Guevin says

    Hi Danny-

    I appreciate you writing this up and agree that proper sourcing and citation are extremely important in our business. At CNET, we try to get this right. Sometimes, as you point out here, we don’t. You’re right that we should have linked to the Bolton News piece where we cite them. As it happens, I was the editor who worked on this story, so I can tell you there was nothing going on other than simple oversight. I’ve added the link that should have been included from the get-go.

    However, where you assert that the Daily Mail did nothing but work off Bolton’s piece, I’m not sure you’re quite right. Notice that where we cite the Daily Mail, we’re citing a quote the Daily Mail appears to have gotten itself. That’s a quote that Bolton did not have (at least not in any of the posts I’ve seen on the Bolton site). So in this case, I think it’s entirely fair to cite and link to both publications as we should have done in the first place.

    -Jennifer Guevin
    Assistant managing editor
    CNET News

  2. says

    Thanks for coming by, Jennifer! I didn’t think there was anything overt going on. Most of my upset really is with the Daily Mail. But omitting the link, they made it harder for others to track where the story came from. And this is a publication that wrote off one of my own stories, used one of my images and didn’t link back. I have a pretty dim view of them :)

    Check out the other links to Bolton that I listed. I just added one that I missed initially:

    http://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/districtnews/districtatog/8826815.Victim_stabbed_to_death_over_text_message_mix_up/

    The quotes come from some of those other stories. I’m pretty sure the Daily Mail read several stories at Bolton — the most recent one and some of the background pieces and assembled its story.

  3. says

    Thank you for correcting the record. I had scheduled a post about this to appear on Monday morning, but I mistakenly cited the Daily Mail as the original source (I originally encountered the story at examiner.com). However, if I had read the Daily Mail article a little more carefully, I would have realized that at least some (perhaps not all, as Jennifer noted) of the article was sourced from the Bolton News. I have added a link to the Bolton News (and a link to your post) to my forthcoming post. I’m just glad that I happened to catch this before my post appeared. In the future, I’ll read my sources more carefully before assuming that they’re the original source.

    Even on my own blogs (which are certainly not as widely read as the Huffington Post), I’ve found that some of my more popular posts contain information sourced from other sources. Because of this, I try to (a) cite the original source, and (b) construct my posts in such a way that the reader is encouraged to go to the original source.

  4. Chuck says

    To complicate things further, the Bolton News piece also includes one detail contradicting all of the later stories: It says that he meant to type “nutter” but it came out as “mutter,” rather than vice-versa. I wonder if it’s a mistake that propagated from The Daily Mail or if it was a Bolton News flub that the others corrected.