Courant Issues Apology for "Plagiarism"

Sorry I’ve been in and out of the discussion the past couple of days. Now that I’m all moved in back at school though, my posting should pick back up.

While I’m waiting for class to start, I thought I’d post some excerpts from the apology the Courant published today for its role in the aggregation/plagiarism controversy I first wrote about here.

The Courant, after first denying the charges, has today published an apology for what it terms its “plagiarism” of other local papers. In the piece, Courant CEO Richard J. Graziano concludes:

In short, after an extensive internal review, we have determined that over the last several weeks The Courant plagiarized the work of some of our competitors. This was not our intent, but it is in fact what happened. We are taking corrective action to prevent it from happening again. We have also disciplined the individuals involved.

The apology itself is pretty comprehensive. While it’s good that the Courant came clean, it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and probably makes the Courant’s continued pitch for the efficacy of print media more difficult down the line.

Thoughts?

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10 responses to “Courant Issues Apology for "Plagiarism"

  1. Patrick Sanders of the AP has a story tonight that says Tribune Co.’s policy is to aggregate and it will continue to copy work from other papers.

    This essentially means the theft of other papers’ work will continue. This is the problem, with or without attribution. It’s not about one reporter’s complaint about another lifting his/her work. It’s about a company’s blanket policy of treating other papers’ work like some sort of free wire service.

    At no point in this debacle has the Courant shown any interest in the industry standard of fair use, which calls for a minimal use and a link back to the original content. Instead, they used all or most of a story – sometimes word for word. If they throw in a link, it’s to the competitor’s home page, but the reader simply needs to pass over that link to read the rest of the story, rather than clicking to reach the rest.

    Now, when you take into consideration the absolute necessity of putting up the paywall, we come into new territory. Fair use, as it exists now in its online form, has not been tested with respect to a free site’s theft of material from a subscription-based site. Hopefully we won’t have to test those waters in court but someone needs to do so.

    The big picture here? The Courant’s ad reps have been walking into the Journal Inquirer’s advertisers and offering their ad bundle monstrosity for the same price or less (in some cases practically for free). They tell them that they have the opportunity to advertise not only in print, but also on 2 television stations and on a Web site with 20 million pageviews a month (and apparently with much of our traffic since they’re using our work). Naturally, advertisers are going with them despite the fact that they are shooting themselves in the foot.

    Without the JI, there will be no reporters to write stories about north central Connecticut, and thus no stories for them to “aggregate” from our area. Thus, the Democratic process is further degraded to the point that there are no more reporters covering the towns, watching the police, watching the budgets, holding public officials accountable.

    This is, in effect, the snake eating it’s own tail.

    Doug Hardy
    Associate Editor
    Journal Inquirer
    Business Manager, CTNewsJunkie.com

    P.S. WTNH Channel 8 stopped by the JI’s newsroom today to do a story. You can see the back of my head on some of the B-roll, talking to the guy in the orange shirt.

    http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/hartford_cty/news_wtnh_courant_apologizes_plagiarism_200909041735

  2. hey sorry about the long url … here’s a tiny version:

    http://tinyurl.com/lvtlmb

  3. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee has chastised the Hartford Courant for using other Connecticut newspapers’ work without attribution to cover its local news.

    “However it happened, the Courant violated fundamental standards,” committee chairman Andy Schotz said in a statement issued Thursday. “This was theft.”

    No hopefully Doug won’t yell at me too much, as I just swiped the above from yesterday’s Journal Inquirer.

  4. History repeats.

    The Internet is much like the cheaper penny presses of the 1830s that undercut the older and more expensive mercantile papers,. The internet is much like the Morse telegraph in the 1840s that allowed for more timely news updates. Newspapers are getting clobbered on retail price, timeliness and distribution. Not a good convergence.

    The AP was formed to coordinate news aggregation, distribution, and to share costs. There were many regional services to help with logistics. The question is whether the AP is structured to keep up with today’s changes.

    The old fair use model is dead. Newspaper companies pretty much had a geographical lock on their area and couldn’t pilfer from each other on a timely basis. Competing on who had the latest and greatest was the differentiator in some cities. TV news wiped out the afternoon dailies.

    You’re now stuck with a declining subscription model in a state that could get by with one really good website instead of 17 (one for each daily). Stripped of the shared and wire service content there’s not that much original content in 17 newspapers. Opinion columnists? They are a dime a dozen in the blogosphere. Feel the bloat now that all 17 papers can be laid out side by side?

    The old distribution model is dead. The carbon footprint is too big. It’s a paperless world. It’s a world where offices promote electronic copies and digital media like CDs and DVDs are being delivered electronically. Who wants to read that wet soggy mess of news glob that gets delivered on a rainy day and recycle that mess? It’s repugnant and irresponsible. That is the new mantra.

    We’re going to see consolidation over the next 10 years. It’s the only path that makes sense in a declining market for wares. Look at the bright side. The JI has the NorthEast corner and North Central locked up. The Courant’s abandoned their iTowns approach. Maybe that’s where your content belongs–in the Courant’s iTowns section and sharing ad dollars from the Courant.

  5. If the afternoon daily is dead, why I am reading the JI?

  6. Do you intend to file suit against Hartford Courant and Tribute Company, Mr. Hardy? Seems as though you have an excellent case, especially when the prospective defendant has already admitted he committed the offense. And it’s not a matter of simply apologizing when your bottom line has been impacted. It could be argued that they hurt your revenues by retaining readers that would have purchased your paper to read the articles your reporters had written.

    Are you contemplating a suit?

  7. Good morning…

    I don’t make litigation decisions at the JI. My job is to design the front three pages of the paper five days a week, among others, and lately have been revamping our Web site and also trying to apply some creative thinking to our business model to provide management with new options. But I don’t really speak for the JI, per se. That’s the job of my boss, Chris Powell, and the publisher, Elizabeth Ellis. I identified myself here as a matter of disclosure.

    In terms of whether the paper plans to litigate, my impression is that Mrs. Ellis would prefer not to because of the cost. But she’s not the type of person to allow Tribune to walk all over us. We’re already litigating (and have been for several years) to break up the Tribune’s cross-ownership of the Courant and the TV stations, which is prohibited in a single market by the FCC. The FCC, under Bush, was providing temporary waivers to allow the Courant/Fox 61/WTXX 20 thing to proceed with its . . . metamorphosis. And this mess we’re talking about now is the direct result of that merger of television with print. “Aggregation” never happened before the management change.

    But Thomas I agree with you in that I think we have a tremendous case, one which could set a new precedent. Maybe it’ll go to court. I’ll be disappointed if it does, if only because it will drag out this nonsense and place additional stress on a lot of people, as well as additional financial stress on news organizations that can’t afford it.

    I have quite a few friends and colleagues at the Courant, none of whom were involved in this aggregation B.S. They have a lot of excellent reporters there, and so do we here at the JI. Competition is a good thing, and it helps maintain a higher level of quality for news organizations. If the Courant eats the JI, don’t hold your breath thinking they will maintain reporters in all of the JI’s towns. It’s not going to happen, and that’s bad for Democracy.

    Dr. Goatboy, you thrown out quite a few issues for debate, but I’ll narrow it down for discussion. Yes, the carbon footprint is bad, but until you can prove that online advertising makes more money or is more effective than print, you don’t have a case. The paperless world is still a myth, though it is becoming more apparent that the traditional newspaper structure has become less interesting to a lot of younger folks. Of course, most younger folks aren’t homeowners or entrepreneurs. Once they do buy a home or build a business, suddenly they’re really interested. Go figure.

    But yeah, people are turning to the Internet and using various sites as if those were the sections of their newspaper. Again, much of the original content about which folks like to comment online came from the newspaper.

    As for combining 17 dailies into one Web site… well that’s just kind of ridiculous at the moment. What we’re already seeing is the consolidation of printing operations. Papers are selling their printing presses to save costs, and contracting with their larger neighbor to publish their products. IMHO, that’s worse than the consolidation of ownership because the owner of the printing press could simply pull the plug on the press or the contract and bang, you’re out of business.

    I completely agree that the proliferation of AP copy throughout the local papers may dilute the value of those papers in this new media environment. Some papers already have ended their contracts with the AP. A paper’s unique content is its value, and that is a change from the past. A paper with an AP contract can still purport itself as a one-stop source of all the info you need about the world in a single edition. But every newspaper in the country is shrinking and cutting pages as ad revenue has dropped with the recession. So we’re in a difficult period and the thing that can go is the wire copy – at least a portion of it.

    The business model has been wrong for a while. The Courant’s model is still wrong and before long you may see them put up the paywall. Their 20 million pageviews a month come at the expense of a steady decline in paid print circulation, which in turn drops their ad rates. A friend of mine (who was laid off from his job at the Courant) told me the Courant’s online revenue was rising at the same ratio that print revenue was dropping. If you do the math you’ll see that this model is unsustainable.

    Hopefully the financial playing field will even out soon with hundreds of newspapers preparing to put up the paywall. People who think information should be free need to realize that they’re not paying for the information. They’re paying for the editing.

  8. Doug Hardy.

    Thanks for the reply.

    I don’t think the paywall is going to work long-term.

    A regional replacement for the AP that coordinates CT news and fair use including trade credits for use among members with an established dollar value set for end-of-year, out-of-balance settlements is a better system. The customers don’t want micro-payments, etc.

    I don’t think you’ll win in the vertical alignment of news media. The question is who will be your media partners in a merger should the vultures come calling.

    Good Luck. It’s going to be rough sledding over the next 10 years.

  9. I hope the Courant starts charging for its on-line version, that will surely be the death of that horrible newspaper. I refuse to pay for it and the only way I happen to view it is for free on-line. If they start to charge for it, I’ll never read the Courant ever again.

  10. Thanks, Dr. G. We’ll need it. Change is never easy.

    As for the paywall, well, it has to be that way. That’s because the vultures are calling…

    Without the print edition, there is no online edition. That’s the case at the JI, that’s the case at the Courant, that’s the case at the Wall Street Journal, that’s the case with every newspaper.

    Micro-payments aren’t the problem. People who don’t want to make micro-payments are happily paying full-year subscription fees both online and for print. It’s just semantics. Maybe 15 years ago people certainly were afraid of any payment online. But that’s no longer the case. And full-year payment rates allow an organization to budget for the longer term, and thus are priced lower. That model will continue to work whether it’s a for-profit or nonprofit model.

    It might be worth considering that the advertising model is what’s melting down right now, rather than the news model. Once the advertising model shakes out, news orgs will have a better direction in mind. Right now it feels like anarchy.

    So you think you can replace the AP on a regional basis with a network of online-only news sources… Who will pay the reporters? And you need an editor for every 5-10 reporters. You have to pay people a wage to gather info and photos and video and audio and to both analyze it and then write about in a coherent form, like the AP’s inverted pyramid.

    A lot of folks don’t realize it, but the AP is a nonprofit, unionized news org. They pay a living wage and provide good benefits. They don’t have a massive print overhead or venture capitalists to appease. And the AP is struggling as well with the disappearance of a lot of their major newspaper customers. But don’t just assume you can start a news service because online-only is cheaper. Salaries are salaries and the return on investment is a lot slower than the returns sought by most venture capitalists.

    If you’re saying the free online model is going to replace those print news organizations, that is possible. The overhead is lower and overall investment is less risky. But the revenue is lower and for the very same reason you think newspapers can’t survive the paywall – people don’t want to pay – online-only will struggle as well. Advertisers like print because print is actually delivered to people, whereas the Web site model may or may not get visited every day.

    The conversion to an online-only product from print means you’ll lose 90 to 99 percent of the employees of those organizations. Those people will be unemployed. And, as a result, you’ll get a product that is equitable to such a sacrifice – a tiny fraction of the information you were getting before. Sure, that sliver of info will be free, but you’ll be sorry the rest is gone.

    A lot of folks are focusing all of their energy on this conundrum. There are no easy solutions. At least none that I’ve heard so far.

    I’ve heard that ASCAP does an amazing job protecting musicians from losing control of their copyrighted material – they’re called the music mafia. They squeeze restaurants for annual membership fees if they’re going to offer live music. I sincerely think this is the answer for the news industry. Every time a radio host steals a story that was not produced by his/her own radio staff, we in print are being marginalized. It has to stop.

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