Watching Another News Story Get “Stolen” Without Attribution

Occasionally, you can watch how a story you’ve broken spreads to other news outlets. Disappointingly, that can mean watching it spread without your originating story getting the credit. My story last week of the “Spreading Romney” site is a great/sad example of this.

Last week, I wrote a story at Search Engine Land about a new site that rose to the top results on Google and Bing for a search on “romney.” You can read the story yourself here: Now, Mitt Romney Has A Santorum-Like Bing & Google Problem.

Before I wrote that story, there were virtually no news articles for a search on “spreading romney.” I know, because I’d done that search to figure out how the site came to be.

From Being Cited (Thank You!)

It’s a different story today. There’s plenty of coverage out there, and it’s likely to grow. Some places saw my story and gave it credit. Thank you! These include:

To Being Lost

Other outlets saw one of the places that cited my original story and rather than citing me instead cited the secondary source.

It’s a tough call here. If you found something from a particular source, it’s nice to give them a “via” or “hat tip” link. But if you don’t cite the originating source, that can cause it to get lost.

Consider how Comedy Central wrote about it. It cites The Atlantic, rather than my piece. I miss out on some of those potential readers. Worse, it’ll really break my heart if this type of thing happens again:

That was Stephen Colbert talking about the Google accuses Bing of copying it story that I broke last year. Yeah, that made Comedy Central. See that arrow? That’s my name even appearing during the show. My kids were thrilled. But see the story? From PC World, not the original from Search Engine Land.

At least PC World cited the original. But when only the secondary source gets cited — as happens with New York Magazine’s article giving the credit to the Daily Beast — the original gets lost.

To Not Getting Mentioned At All

Still, credit to Comedy Central and New York Magazine for providing some attribution about how they came across this news item. Over at Time, the magazine apparently just discovered the story out of the blue. The Time story makes no mention about why or how it suddenly stumbled onto the news.

Over at Daily Kos, it links to what The Raw Story wrote, which in turn has a hat tip to the Boise Weekly, with a story here. Seriously? The Boise Weekly was its source?

Turns out, The Boise Weekly got it from me, almost certainly. I can tell, because they have my screenshot. No link to my story. No mention that the screenshot, complete with the arrow pointing out the key listing, was taken without permission. Just taken.

Well, it’s not like The Boise Weekly isn’t in bad company. After all, the Daily Mail did a similar thing to me in 2010, and the screenshot they took remains up despite me contacting them at least twice. Oh, and no attribution, either.

Giving credit is extra work. It’s not always easy to know who to credit. But it’s the right thing to do, and should be done.

Postscript (8am PT): Still no word back from the Boise Weekly on providing any credit. I’d also contacted the Raw Story, which linked to them, saying:

On your story here:

You credit the Boise Weekly. Believe me, I appreciate you trying to credit another publication. Many don’t. The problem is, the Boise Weekly didn’t credit my story that they summarized — not to mention stole the screenshot from.

I’d love if you could cite my original story in addition to or rather than those folks. You’ll find it here:

Note again the screenshot in both, how they both say “Costa Mesa” as the location. That’s in Southern California, where I am, not in Idaho :)

Publisher Roxanne Cooper came back with this thoughtful reply:

I seriously doubt you invented the meme at search engineland. And If so, you need to contact Boise Weekly.

My response back:

I didn’t invent the meme. The meme was invented Jack Shepler, who I cited in my story. To date, I’m the only news outlet that’s spoken to him, that I know of.

He created it back in January in hopes of ranking on Google. But no news outlet reported him actually getting there until I did, last week.

That’s the news story that you’re reporting off the Boise Weekly, that in turn was picking it up off of my story – complete with my illustration.

It’s pretty obvious if you’d taken the time to look. Clearly you didn’t.

I’ve been in contact with Boise Weekly already, but I thought I’d also contact Raw Story directly, given that since you do H/T links, you seem to want to provide credit where credit is due. If you’re happy crediting a story that took someone else’s illustration, I guess that’s disappointing.

I’m not getting my hopes up the Raw Story will provide any credit, which in the grand scheme of things means little. The attitude about credit is far more important.

Postscript 2 (9am PT): Boise Weekly wrote to say:

First: I apologize. The image we published most certainly should not have been posted without credit and permission and I’ve removed the image from our website.

However, this story first came up on our radar after NY Mag wrote about it and a quick Google search showed it had been reported widely:

While I like to believe and read Boise Weekly my guess is their reporters stumbled across the story the same way ours did.

They’ve since dropped the screenshot and left the story without any attribution. The New York Magazine story, as I explained, linked to the Daily Beast with attribution. The Daily Beast linked to my story.


  1. says

    News websites are NOTORIOUS about this. I have had all kinds of issues with this, up to and including screaming matches on the phone and threats of lawsuits.

  2. Andrew Jensen says

    Craziness. Funny how media prefers to credit other “reputable” media sources while seemingly completely oblivious to the true news breakers. As if being part of the holy circle of official media lends an arrogant level of credibility.

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing your story. I hope the day is near when some kind of automated story attribution is feasible and effective. As a sometime-blogger, I have clicked through plenty of complicated “via / via / via” link paths on stories, wishing that the story I initially found had directly credited the original source. This is particularly important with research studies, as one of the stories involved almost inevitably twists the original study in a major way (which then gets picked up by everyone else later in the chain, with no one going back to the source to recognize how the results have been distorted).

  4. says

    As a blogger, I’m conflicted as to how to approach these problems on a regular basis. It’s not that easy. For example, how far should I go in trailing back a story to its original (and sometimes hard to find) source? And how much time do I take to do that, when I’m trying to get a post out? Obviously you know your story, but I don’t, so when I read it in the Boise Weekly, it’s wrong to cite them?

    As a matter of course, I usually try to insert a “via” and a “source” if I know the original source but saw it via a blog I regularly read. I think they should get credit, too.

    But while I try hard to credit my posts properly, I take issue with those who consider a story “theirs” who are just the first to post on a subject that’s in the public eye, but un-noticed (example: a trademark filing). Do they “own” the fact that Company A filed a trademark, because they posted on it before anyone else? Does “first” always mean “own”?

    Your posts are insightful, personal, and unique, so I’m not talking about you, here, but when bloggers get all bent out of shape because someone “stole their story”, which consist solely of reporting public facts, I take issue.

    I also think the whole issue is a bit overblown in general. Think of blog posts like jokes. You hear a good joke, and you retell it. You don’t say “I heard this from Joe, who heard it from Bill, who overheard it from Mary”. No one cares. Obviously this isn’t the perfect analogy, but to think that you have a right to every click and every link from your posts, for all eternity, is asking a lot, I think.

  5. Kathy Vetter says

    It sucks. But TV and radio stations have made a daily habit of stealing from newspapers for years, with no attribution whatsoever. Now, it’s the web. Just wanted to point out that this didn’t start, and it won’t end, with tech bloggers, or even the Internet.

  6. says

    Kip, it’s definitely hard. It gets harder the faster and longer a story has been out there. At some point, it’s so widely based that trying to attribute back to an originating source might be too difficult.

    It’s also completely true that no one “owns” a story, especially when you’re talking about stuff that others can verify, as well.

    I think that’s it’s common courtesy that when you come across a story you really didn’t know about — and you weren’t seeing in a million other sources — that you credit how you found the story.

    That means people like Comedy Central, which credited how they found the story, are doing well to me even if they didn’t link back to the original. At least they tried to explain how they came across something unlike Time, which made it appear as if it just discovered this — or the Boise Weekly, same thing.

    It’s especially a problem with Time, however, because some publishers of mainstream media outlets don’t hesitate to say if they feel like they’re constantly having “their” news ripped off by bloggers. But as it turns out, those reporters might be getting some of their tips from blog but not documenting this.

    This story I did explains this more with an AP article (the AP has been especially vocal that it feels ripped-off):

    I’d suggest that if people come across a story from some newspapers article or blog, they try to see if another source is being cited. If so, follow-through and make a judgement on whether there’s enough reason to source the original publication.

    It’s definitely not perfect. But some publications don’t even try, and I think that’s the bigger issue.

  7. says

    I have always appreciated the enormous amount of leg work you put behind all of the stories you publish on SELand. It pains me to see one of my hometown papers (Boise Weekly) blatantly not only rewrite your story as their own but to also steal the graphics as well (kind of obvious they took it as it still uses the Costa Mesa, CA search location and red arrow). I have put in a word to them as a local asking them to rectify their failure, not sure how much it will do but hopefully getting some attribution to the correct source.

  8. says

    It never ceases to amaze me how print/traditional journalists look down their noses at online writers, yet don’t follow the basics of investigative journalism. They simply regurgitate other stories or worse, press releases. Not a blanket statement for all journos, but it’s becoming more and more prevalent.

    It irks me more that they call it “New!” even in the title like THEY are breaking the story. Clearly if they even read the Atlantic Wire article, it was over a week old when they picked it up.

    8 yrs of getting ripped off and told I’m not a “real” writer has made me touchy about this, can ya tell? 😉 They would be the first ones to cry foul if you did it to them. You should have had full attribution and a link. If journalists can’t be bothered to even read the article they’re citing, they should be doing something worthy of their level of ambition. I was going to say flipping burgers, but that’s an insult to burger flippers. They work harder than this.

  9. says

    Classic. The news outlets are terrible with this. They cry wolf when bloggers “steal” their content, yet they do this all the time to each other. I avoid certain news outlets for this very reason. I won’t mention who they are, but they rarely, if ever, have original content.

  10. says

    Maybe RightHaven would be glad to help you out for a cut of the action. If these were FOREIGN Websites you could hope that SOPA/PIPA would somehow be passed so that you could cut off their advertising revenues.

    As it is, they are only American Websites, so you’ll have to rely on EXISTING American law to enforce and protect your rights: your options include having the sites taken down, filing a DMCA takedown notice with each and every site, and asking the Federal authorities to open an investigation that may lead to criminal charges under various EXISTING laws.

    Optionally, you could just could just republish their stories on your own Websites, giving yourself proper attribution for whichever of your content was stolen.

    In which case they MIGHT want to try to use EXISTING US laws on the books to have your site taken down, or launch a criminal investigation, etc.

    Let us know what you decide to do — I’ll start signing up for alternative networks if it looks like the Internet is threatened.

  11. says

    Danny’s was published 2/10 while the rest are 2/13. Yes blog post dates can be updated, but I’m sure that Danny’s server logs show his post being accessed all weekend before the others were even published.

    Danny, did you check the access log for IP addresses from Boise, say between 2/10 and 2/12? Share that with the Boise Weekly.

  12. says

    I understand your frustration.

    In the end, Google *should* place your original story highest in the search rankings. Their crawler should be able to figure out that all the links, directly or indirectly, point to yours.

    Realistically its not that simple.

    Some domains rank higher than others obviously (as if I need to tell you). Realistically you’ll rank well, but probably not the best due to freshness algorithms and a million other ranking factors. It could be that some lazy writer generates more traffic than you did after you did all the hard work.

    My point is that it’s out of your hands. It’s impossible to write everyone who doesn’t cite the proper source.

    The only person that can solve this is Google and other search engines.

  13. Nick says

    The bit about Roxanne Cooper made me chuckle. If she was too lazy to do her homework about the original story she obviously wasn’t going to do her homework on why you could possibly be wasting her time with an email. Disrespectful too, she should know better.

    In my niches the big 3 players all publish magazines and the ONLY link between each other and with product manufacturers. I’ve broken several stories only to see them reworded on these big 3 sites without credit. In fact none of them have ever linked to me even when discussing or mentioning my site.

    It’s “brown nose the big competitors and trample the small ones” out there, quality and attribution optional, but they all claim to be on the up and up now don’t they. I can see Roxanne asking you to retract this defamatory article since she would never.. hehe

  14. says

    Being a regular reader of your stories at search engine land, i believe you put up a lot of effort and research into your stories, and its quite disgusting that they copied like this.

    I hope Google will take some manual action against this.