Share with your friends. Don’t steal. Be nice.
These are among the rules editors should live by, but I’ll admit I was only two for three last week.
The News Tribune certainly abides by Rule No. 1.
We’ve always shared stories through The Associated Press news cooperative. We pay a substantial fee for membership, which requires us to share our stories and allows us to publish stories written by the AP and other member organizations.
We also try to share directly with other newspapers when one of our stories affects people in their community. That happened Friday when we reported on Bear, the dog from Sacramento who turned up at a Tacoma shelter. We called The Sacramento Bee on Friday night and sent it our story, and it ran in both papers Saturday.
In recent years, as newspaper staffs have become more stretched, we’ve all explored new opportunities to share when it can improve our offerings for readers and also makes business sense.
When our parent company, McClatchy, purchased The Olympian several years ago, we dropped our long-standing competitive stance and began swapping stories. We pick up their coverage of the Statehouse, prep sports and news from Nisqually and Yelm. We share with them our coverage of college and professional sports and the military.
Sharing is a bit more complicated with papers that compete with us for readership, news scoops and advertising dollars. The Seattle Times, for instance, has become a “frenemy.” We now occasionally share a same-day story, but only after asking an editor for permission. On many fronts, we prefer to remain competitors.
We have turned down some sharing opportunities. Editors at The Chronicle in Centralia offered to let us run any of their stories if we agreed to do the same. We respectfully declined, believing the partnership would benefit them far more than us. We occasionally run a news story from that part of the state, but they’d have access to all of our professional and college sports, Statehouse and other regional coverage. We decided to remain on a story-by-story arrangement.
While sharing has become more prolific in the news business, so has stealing. The Internet makes it easy.
Oftentimes the stealing occurs under the guise of “aggregation.” News organizations such as ours mainly write their own stories or pay a vendor for content. Others mainly cruise the Internet, gathering up others’ stories to post on their websites. If they have permission through a cooperative or an editor, that’s OK. If they post a TNT headline with a couple of paragraphs of the story and a link to our website, that’s OK, too.
We link to 18 other blogs, for instance, from our Political Buzz blog, but we don’t publish others’ posts in their entirety.
U.S. copyright law limits how much of another’s work can be published without their permission. “Fair use” doctrine limits that use to a “summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report.” To take more would break Rule No. 2. It would be stealing.
Last week, a reader alerted us to a “news” website in East Pierce County that had re-published a News Tribune story in its entirety. Not only did it cut and paste all 26 paragraphs of Sara Schilling’s story about an Orting city councilman, but also it identified her as “staff writer” and ran our photograph with a credit to “Peter Haley, staff photographer.”
That’s when I broke Rule No. 3. I was not nice.
After tracking down the publisher, I asked him why our story was running on his site. He told me that’s what they do, post news stories from around the area. I made it clear I considered the posting a violation of copyright law, that he had stolen our story. I told him to remove it immediately or we would begin legal action.
He told me he would do so. He suggested I be nicer about it. I broke Rule No. 3 again.
It is a new media landscape. We are sharing more than ever as a way to produce a comprehensive news report at a time when our staff is smaller. But our stories belong to us. We get to decide who runs them.
In many ways, our original local reporting has become more valuable than ever. We will guard it against those whose business models include breaking Rule No. 2.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434