I 100 percent sympathize with Ian Shapira for being upset about being under-credited for some work he did. That said, I think it’s way off-base of him to spin this tale into a larger saga about how the internet is undermining the economics of news-gathering. For one thing, as Spencer Ackerman says unfortunately this happens to everyone who works in journalism, and newspapers arguably do it even more egregiously than websites. Indeed, it’s not just that MSM outlets rip-off blogs without adequate credit, but MSM outlets are actually really vicious about failing to credit each other. This is bad manners, bad ethics, and I think ultimately not very sensible business practic and everyone ought to cut it off.
That said, no matter how many times someone expresses the view that newspapers’ financial problems are caused by the fact that they’re not allowed to copyright the factual content of the stories their reporters unveil, it’s still not true. The fact of the matter is that the MSM organizations that do the most news-gathering get a staggering volume of web traffic. One could imagine an alternate universe in which the New York Times and BBC were creating all this great content, putting it online, and then aggregation-oriented blogs were re-writing it all and people were only reading the aggregators at NYTimes.com and bbc.co.uk languish. But we don’t actually live in that universe. Rather, we live in a universe in which NYTimes.com and bbb.co.uk are hugely popular websites.
True, the NYT doesn’t charge those who read its website. But subscription costs don’t cover the cost of paper and delivery. When you sell newspapers, you lose money. You earn money from selling ads. But advertisers don’t wan to pay big-time money for web advertisements. This is a big problem for newspapers. But of course it’s an even bigger problem for for-profit web-only enterprises. And altering copyright law doesn’t make the problem go away. But newspaper writers and editors should consider that altering copyright law in an anti-aggregator way would in fact create enormous headaches for working reporters who are naturally going to want to be able to write stories that are informed by accurate factual information that was first reported elsewhere.