How The Mainstream Media Stole Our News Story Without Credit

On Friday, I broke a tasty story about a woman suing Google, claiming bad directions caused her to get hit by a vehicle. Today, I discover our story is everywhere, often with no attribution. Come along and watch how the mainstream media, which often claims bloggers rip it off, does a little stealing of its own.

Woman Follows Google Maps “Walking” Directions, Gets Hit, Sues was the story I posted on Friday afternoon, Pacific Time. I was tipped to the lawsuit by Gary Price of ResourceShelf. Gary hadn’t written about it himself but thought Search Engine Land would be interested in it. He came across it through the regular monitoring of search-related news that he does across a variety of resources (Gary watches many, many things — he’s a research guru extraordinaire). Gary downloaded a copy of the suit via the PACER Service and sent it to me.

No one had written about the case before I put my article up. I know. I checked before publishing. There was nothing out there. So what happened next?

I’ll Steal Your Image, But I Won’t Link To You

Let’s start with the Daily Mail’s story here. We get no attribution, but I know they found the story from us. My evidence? They’re using a screenshot I made, without my permission and without credit.

It’s a screenshot of the route from Google Maps. Sure, the Daily Mail could have generated their own route using Google Maps. But, they didn’t. “Their” image is cropped exactly the same as mine and includes an arrow I added to point to a warning on Google Maps.

Since the image was created by me, for Search Engine Land, and is a transformation of the original Google “work,” the copyright that the Daily Mail is violating belongs to Search Engine Land.

Postscript: There’s some debate in the comments on whether altering a Google screenshot as I did provides me with a copyright. Let’s say it doesn’t. That still doesn’t excuse the Daily Mail in my books for just taking the picture without any credit at all. Common courtesy still has a place.

The Financial Post does the same thing, uses my exact image — so they had to have seen my story — but they don’t bother to link over or provide attribution.

Postscript: Jameson Berkow from the Financial Post got in touch soon after I posted my story to apologize, saying there was originally a link to our article in his piece but which got lost along with other links through some technical glitch (which I can totally understand happening. I’ve lived through those myself). When he fixed the missing links, ours got overlooked accidentally but now has been restored. I’m also good with the usage of our illustration, since the article links over to me.

I’ll Link To Your Source Document, But Not You

Over at PC World, a different twist. Rather than link to my story, they linked to the source documentation — the lawsuit — that I uploaded to my personal Scribd account.

I created this account on Friday, so it’s not something you’d just stumble upon in the course of independent news gathering. Maybe PC World saw someone else linking to it and so never saw my story.

Maybe. Then again, as part of the news reporting process, I think tracking down originating sources is important. Where did this document come from? The Scribd file links over to my original story. If you wanted to backtrack the origin of this document (say, perhaps, to know if it was actually real), you’d probably head over to my story.

Either PC World did this, and didn’t think credit was necessary, or it failed to fully fact check the story.

Postscript: PC World has added a link now, thanks, and the author commented about coming across my story after finding other ones about it.

By Omission, Someone Else Becomes The Source

Regardless of how it happened, the PC World story is an example of something else, how a second party can become the originating source.

That PC World story? CBS News cited it as the source for its own story. That, again, makes you question some of the news reporting that is supposed to go on by the mainstream media. The reporting, that accounts often say, blogs themselves fail to do.

CBS simply seems to have summarized the PC World story, ending with a link to PC World plus a link to the complaint itself — the complaint I uploaded. Clearly no one tried to track down the complaint’s origin more. No apparent attempt to independently verify if the case was real. (FYI, unlike CBS, I actually did call the legal firm in the case on Friday).

That CBS story also flowed out to affiliated CBS news stations, such as here and here.

Postscript: CBS, after seeing this, added a link — thanks!

Over at the Atlantic Wire, PC World again gets cited, but not us. News.com also is cited in that Atlantic Wire round-up of commentary on the case. Despite the fact News.com prominently links to us (thanks!), that doesn’t make it into the Atlantic’s story.

Postscript: They’ve since added a link, thanks!

Time Magazine also does the same, linking to the Scribd document and the PC World story.

Postscript: They’ve since added a link, thank you.

AOL News did similarly, linking to the complaint — which was almost certainly found by reading our story — but not to our story itself. As a result, places like the New York Daily News, nineMSN and The Register cite AOL News as the source.

Postscript: AOL has since added a link, thanks!

It’s not just mainstream media that screwed up, however. Even Gizmodo, a well known tech blog, overlooked us. They linked to Fortune, which in turn linked to us. But we didn’t get a mention at Gizmodo.

Postscript: Originally I’d had written further below:

Semi-thanks to Gizmodo. They linked to Fortune, which linked to us. But hey Gizmodo, next time, show a brother-blog some love and give us a direct link.

It came up in comments that this was being too soft on Gizmodo, compared to some of the mainstream publications that I dinged for linking to an intermediary source. I agreed, explained why this happened and have changed the story to ding them properly.

Having said that, about an hour after this story when live, Gizmodo added us as a source like this:

[Search Engine Land via Fortune]

I’ve often seen them show the story trail across multiple sources this way, which I think is well done.

Want to see attribution done right? Over at Inc, they appared to have spotted the PC World story first. But further down, there’s this:

First reported by SearchEngineLand

Thanks! And thanks to others who linked, including:

The News, It Just Sprang From Our Forehead

Though I’m a traditionally trained reporter, most of my journalism has been online, where documenting how a story has been found is both easily done (through links) and often done. Bloggers generally explain how they discovered a news item.

As a result, bloggers also set themselves up for accusations that they’ve just “ripped off” some traditional news outlet. By carefully listing an originating source, and sometimes a “via” source, they expose how news flows.

In contrast, a traditional media outlet typically does not document how a story came to life. It’s all a mystery. News just seems to emerge magically out of thin air in the middle of a newsroom. Or, it’s down to all those hard-working reporters out there defending democracy despite newspapers earning less these days because of all those rip-off bloggers.

For example, the Salt Lake Tribune published the Google Maps story yesterday, three days after our story went up. How did the paper discover the news?

In a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court for Utah…

Well, lawsuits are public. Newspapers regularly check on them, in their areas. In fact, that’s exactly what Tribune reporter Chris Smart told me, when I called him today to ask about the origin of his story. Smart said the Tribune has a federal courts reporter who checks for filings each day.

I used to work for daily newspapers. I know courts reporters do this. But our story went up late on Friday afternoon Pacific time. How come the Tribune didn’t have its own story then? A full day had passed from when the case was filed to when it could have been written up. But it wasn’t.

Did the reporter come in on Saturday, Sunday or Monday — over a holiday weekend — and check the records?

There was some discussion between Chris and someone else in the newsroom, then I was handed over to the federal courts reporter herself. She eventually said that someone in the newsroom heard a rumor about this case, and she was called in to help locate it on Monday using the PACER system.

Now let’s imagine how the Tribune’s story would have looked, if that fact had been reported:

After hearing a rumor about a case involving Google Maps, which someone saw on TV or read on a blog or we don’t really know where, we checked court records ourselves to find the case which says….

Whatever rumor the Tribune heard, which finally got them to cover a story three days late in their own backyard, that rumor started with our story. Despite this, the Tribune became the originating source as cited by places such as About.com, the San Francisco Business Times and elsewhere.

Postscript: The SF Business Times, after seeing this, kindly added a link!

Beyond the Tribune, there are plenty of other places where the story was apparently just discovered out of the blue, including:

I especially like how this happens over at The Sun. The story there, by “Staff Reporter,” gives no clue about how a British tabloid owned by News Corporation came across a story that happened over 5,000 miles away. Wire report? Saw it on a blog? Is there a Sun reporter based in Park City, Utah?

We’ll Cite You, But Not Link To You

Mashable reported on our story, and like a reputable blog, they linked to us. But Mashable’s content appears to be syndicated into places like the Sydney Morning Herald — and our link got dropped in that.

That’s bad for us, as we lose traffic. It’s also bad for Sydney Morning Herald readers, who may want to read our original story.

Postscript: They’ve since added a link, thank you.

Related to this, both Fox News Memphis and Fox News LA cite Mashable for their story, which makes me think all Fox News affiliates are sharing this piece. Since Mashable is credited, was it too hard to cite Search Engine Land as the original source?

Postscript: The story has since added a link, thanks!

The Salt Lake Tribune also gets cited, which underscores a point I made earlier. Instead of original reporting going on, plenty of mainstream publications are happy to simply “echo chamber” a story that originated on a blog in the same way that blogs are often accused of doing to mainstream publications.

And Now, It’s From The AP

The Associated Press has filed on the story. Here’s the entire thing so far (the story will no doubt grow as they do more reporting). I’m going to reprint the entire thing. I feel this is allowed by fair use, as it’s required to show the entire story in order to fully comment about it:

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — A woman who says she relied on Google for walking directions in Utah that got her hit on a major roadway has filed a lawsuit against the Internet company claiming it supplied unsafe directions.

Lauren Rosenberg filed the $100,000 lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Utah. It also names a motorist she says hit her.

A Google spokeswoman also did not return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Rosenberg says she used her BlackBerry to download walking directions from Google Maps between two Park City addresses.

The Los Angeles County resident claims the directions led her to walk through Park City on a road without sidewalks that she says isn’t safe for pedestrians.

Rosenberg couldn’t be reached Tuesday. Her attorneys did not return messages.

As with the Tribune, where’s the information about how the AP discovered this story? Did the reporter come across someone else writing about it? If so, how about a credit? And if so, did they actually pull the case itself from PACER? Or did they download the document I put out there, like many others seem to have done?

Speaking of the Tribune, that paper is owned by MediaNewsGroup, which is led by Dean Singleton, who is also chairman of the Associated Press. Singleton and the AP have been vocal that blogs often rip them off for news content.

My Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories? story has another example of a story that emerged from blogs and into the AP wire without attribution.

I think that if the AP or traditional publications like the Salt Lake Tribune documented exactly how they “found” news in the way blogs do, there’d be a fair reassessment of just how much flows back and forth. It’s not all a one way street, from traditional news outlets to blogs.

Can’t We All Get Along?

That brings me back to another piece I wrote last year, Blogs & Mainstream Media: We Can & Do Get Along. I’d like to see a lot less finger-pointing and much more acknowledgment that the origin of news is a messy business.

So why am I pointing fingers in this case? To help keep things even. I think it’s very well known how traditional sources get cited by alternative ones. But while the opposite is true, that’s a story that’s rarely illustrated.

I’ll also add that I know mistakes and misunderstandings can happen with attribution. I try to get it right, but I know I’m not perfect. I also know there are times we’ve reported on a story, credited someone else but nonetheless ended up as a originating source. News is messy. But we should all try to do better attribution.

Postscript: Aside from the fairness of attribution, linking to sources brings those sources support with traffic. Our story at Search Engine Land has had 30,000 page views just from being mentioned in the Toronto Star’s write-up. If other places like the Daily Mail or the Sun had linked, we’d have even more visitors, which is important to a relatively small publication. My Thanks For The Link, Mainstream Media — Now Let’s Have More! post from 2007 has more thoughts on wanting to see more mainstream linking.