New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Blogging, Media


June 4th, 2010

When the Mainstream Media Swipes the Blogger’s Goods

I’ve been mulling this over for a few days, undecided if I should write about how the mainstream media swiped an original story I published last week. And then I saw that someone else just went down the same road.

Danny Sullivan wrote How The Mainstream Media Stole Our News Story Without Credit. And in it he told the story of a ludicrous lawsuit of a woman who sued Google after she was hit by a car after following Google directions. The media loves these types of lawsuits — those outliers of the courthouse that make people scratch their heads and wonder at the stupidity of mankind.  And I usually watch them due to the deleterious effect that they have on the legitimate suits in the courthouse that never see the papers. 

In my story, I wrote about the lawyers representing the 10,000 September 11 responders that had been sickened, and who had brought suit. A massive settlement — as much as $657M — had been scuttled in March by Judge Alvin Hellerstein who complained about the legal fees that plaintiffs counsel would get. He wanted the lawyers to cut their fees so that the claimants would get more. (They were to receive approximately the same as defense counsel, but only the plaintiffs who had taken the risk and put up their own money were singled out.)

There were thousands of articles written about the busted settlement, due to the extraordinary nature of September 11, the 10,000 claimants, and more than half a billion dollars at stake.

The newsworthy part was the two letters that I published early on Friday May 28th —  they were not part of the public file — that disclosed a willingness by plaintiffs’ counsel to cut their fees from 33% to 25%. While settlement negotiations are usually private, it busted out into public view when one plaintiff’s firm demanded in a letter to the court that they get their full fee. The firm apparently copied every lawyer involved, thereby insuring that some member of the press would get their hands on it.

I published the letters, both as a hard news story along with my commentary at the end. Above the Law picked it up that same day and ran it as its first item in its Morning Docket with other hard news items. That basically guaranteed wide distribution.

 The Daily News then used the material on Sunday to run a moronic editorial called Shave ‘Em Closer, about cutting the legal fees even further.  And in doing so they failed to give credit for where they got the information. This left the reader to believe the hard news part of the editorial was from their own news gathering.

Now a short rant on the substance of the editorial. Here was their justification:

Envisioning an enormous payday, the lead attorneys in the case, a firm called Worby Groner EdelmanNapoli Bern, signed up sickened 9/11 workers when few others paid any mind to their epidemic illnesses. Retainer agreements set the legal fees at 33% of any recoveries.

Missing from every part of the editorial is the $30M plaintiffs’ counsel spent out of their own pockets, and the spectacular risk of taking the suit. Essentially, if the suit failed, the lawyers would not only have wasted seven years of their lives, but faced personal and professional ruin. No one else involved in the litigation was asked to cut their fees. Here’s an idea for the News: Why not cut your prices in half? I think you charge too much. Please don’t belly-ache about your expenses and risks in running your operation. You clearly don’t care about such things.

OK, Daily News rant over, back to the main subject. The Associated Press read the Daily News editorial and then created a new story based upon it. They apparently failed to speak to the News or bothered looking for other sources for the story. They simply parroted what the News said. No cites to original sources. And once in the hands of the AP, off the story went around the world.

Is this a self-interested, petulant complaint by me? I thought it might be and was going to kill the idea of writing about it until I saw Danny Sullivan’s piece on the exact same subject. I’m obviously not alone.

What is it about the mainstream media that believes they can just swipe the stories of others and run with them without attribution?


The mainstream media has for year, moaned about websites and blogs using their stories without giving proper credit to the original source. Which makes it slightly embarrassing when the shoe is revealed to be on the other foot… [more]

Should mainstream media be held to different standards than bloggers when it comes to crediting sources? Mainstream media agencies have frequently turned their noses up at bloggers, essentially claiming that they steal and repurpose the work of their hard working journalists. While this may be true in some cases, it is hardly fair to say that this is true in general. In fact, this week, we’ve seen a clear example of the hypocrisy of this notion, because mainstream media publications are clearly just as guilty as blogs when it comes to improper crediting of sources…  [more]

…[Sullivan’s]  post on his personal blog goes into painstaking detail about the chronology of the story’s proliferation out here on the interwebs, and who linked, or failed to link, to whom…The comments on Sullivan’s post contain a spirited discussion of journalistic Netiquette, and are worth a perusal… [more]

…Not giving credit for a scoop is uncool, but it’s pretty low on the scale of journalistic sins. It is a nice shiv in the side of newspapers complaining about blogs and aggregators ripping them off…[more]

3 thoughts on “When the Mainstream Media Swipes the Blogger’s Goods

  1. Nice post, Eric.

    As blogs (legal, political, whatever) continue to rise in quality, you see the MSM ripping off bloggers more and more. For some reason, sources like the Daily News seem to think that it’s not necessary to attribute the source of their information the same way they would if, for example, the Washington Post broke the story. In that case it would take a simple “As was first reported in the Washington Post” line. I’d like to see newspapers adopt the same standard for running with information culled from blogs.

  2. Last year, when the Washington Times used some of my material for an editorial on Sonia Sotomayor, they did just that, giving fair attribution.

    I guess some companies just don’t give a damn about the quality of their work.

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