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Late last month, WaPo’s Ian Shapira accused Gawker of ripping off his story about a pricey consultant: “Gawker’s version of my story, headlined ” ‘Generational Consultant’ Holds America’s Fakest Job,” begins by telling its readers to “Meet Anne Loehr” — with a link to my story but no direct mention of The Post.”
The fallout that ensued was tremendous. A few web-only writers went after Gawker, but even more argued that at least Gawker gave credit, whereas newspapers, television stations, and other old media frequently don’t when they re-report a story.
Well, CNN recently did to criminal justice reporter Radley Balko, who lives in Northern Virginia, what Gawker supposedly did to Shapira, except it failed to give any credit where much credit was due.
As Techdirt wrote early this morning, Balko (who I worked with at Reason) has spent several years reporting on Steven Hayne, the Mississippi medical examiner whose shoddy work has led to the incarceration of several known innocents. Over the last three years, Balko has cultivated sources, reads hundreds—if not thousands—of pages of documentation incriminating Hayne, and, as a result, has broken every single piece of major news about the medical examiner.
But you wouldn’t know any of that if all you had for reference was the AC360 special about Hayne, which piggy-backs almost exclusively on Balko’s reporting without every hat-tipping or acknowledging his work. (Techdirt reported that “sources quoted by CNN told Balko that CNN claims it found them via his articles.”)
In a post at his site The Agitator, Balko writes
I guess the important thing here is that CNN is giving the Steven Hayne story national attention.
And I guess I shouldn’t dwell too much on the fact that CNN piggybacked on my three years of reporting without giving me even the slightest acknowledgment. Journalists who have been in the game far longer than I tell me this kind of thing happens all the time. Bigger outlets don’t really feel obligated to credit smaller ones for breaking stories.
Most bloggers and reporters, old media and new, have made the same point: Piggy-backing happens a lot, it’s how news dissemination works, and it shouldn’t be looked down on if it’s done right. But few people, especially in old media, are willing to concede that when a story moves upward, from web to print, or from small outlet to national outlet, the big dogs don’t feel the need to reciprocate credit.
This is especially egregious when a story blows up in the hands of a larger outlet, because there’s an opportunity to easily boost a smaller paper’s profile with a hat-tip. The Wall Street Journal could (and should) have done this in August of last year, when it piggybacked on months of reporting by the Brownsville Herald on a story about Mexican-Americans being denied citizenship because they were delivered by midwives instead of in obstetric wards.
In an email, Balko elaborated on CNN’s failure to credit his reporting:
“With my story, it wasn’t just CNN. The Gannet-owned Jackson Clarion-Ledger has run with two of my big scoops about Dr. Hayne in just the last six months. Neither acknowleded I broke the original story. Here you have a paper with a fairly large staff and budget continually getting scooped on a story that’s beeing going on in its own backyard for 20 years by a journalist with a small magazine who lives 600 miles away. Seems to me that’s a good indication that the traditional media’s problems go well beyond having their content excerpted by blogs and websites.”
UPDATE: A savvy reader points out that CNN closed the comments on the ANC360 Hayne article immediately after this post pinged back in the comments section: