Sunday, 18 January 2015

The copy-and-paste approach of modern "journalists"

The internet together with the increasingly easy access to the online world have changed considerably the expectations we have from news and content providers, in general. Once upon a time, getting the daily newspaper and, perhaps, a weekly magazine was all it took to satisfy our hunger for news. Alas, not any more.
'What's the news' by ¡kuba!
under a CC license

The internet gave the power to news sites to add content dynamically, e.g., to post news as they happened. That has fuelled the page-refresh urge of ours to extents that, sometimes, may come close to clinical addiction.

The internet also gave the chance to a large number of people to get into the news or content-providing business. An increasing number of news sites has been appearing, some without a corresponding printed publication, which, together with the ever increasing number of blogs have created a universe with the sole purpose of propagating "fresh" information.

That's a good thing, isn't it? Well, not necessarily.

Many of news sites are, in fact, just collection of re-posts of news items. A simple copy-and-paste job. Often, without even commentary or, worse, with the original commentary and, sometimes, even worse, without attribution to the original source, too. There are also cases of circulating redacted, shortened or unfinished stories, which can lead to confusion.

Having news-hungry readers and a system that can disseminate news stories fast is certainly a good thing. At the same time, however, publishing, even online, has costs. Person-hours that need to be compensated, bandwidth costs, hosting costs, software development costs, intellectual property costs, legal services costs, etc., depending on the type of the site and the group behind it. Then there is the quality factor. Getting the story in the first place, cross-checking it, getting more data, writing the original article, reviewing and proof-reading it, updating it if needed, etc., need resources. All those,  are essential parts of the so-called "investigative journalism" thing that we, the public, are desperately in need for. Similar things also apply for non-professionals, too, who also devote part of their free time, energy and enthousiasm into preparing and publishing content, despite the fact that they may not always be after revenue, per se.

The copy-and-paste journalism, usually, has little to offer. Contrary to that, despite the apparent additional publicity of the original content, it twists the income model original content providers typically aim for, i.e., traffic converted to advertising revenue. To make things worse, it discourages readers from visiting the original sources, even if those is referenced in the copy-and-paste posts. That is because such news sites tend to offer quick turnaround of posts and, thus, are better suited for our continuous news-check addiction, much better than, say, a newspaper site, where published articles persist for longer. Additionally, there is little reason to visit the news source, if the reader has already read the article. Plus, reading online, nowadays, has its own challenges, too - as I have written previously. Social media, with their sharing capabilities, can - sometimes - make things even worse for the original content creators.

To be clear and fair, the rationale above does not apply to sites that quote and link to discrete news items or articles and provide further commentary, additional content, etc. Those are actually providing derivative work, which would normally be legally (and ethically) OK. Also, copy-and-paste journalism can be found in the printed media, too. And, finally, online journalists do face challenges that may encourage less thorough practices, including, but not limited to, the mandate to hunt for readers' clicks that can bring the much-needed advertising income.

Is copy-and-paste posting useless then? It depends. 

Copy-and-paste sites and their use of social media are particularly handy when one needs to distribute information as widely as possible. A good example is press releases, especially anything related to consumer safety. Overall, however, I would feel that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages - but that 's a personal opinion.

Can things improve? Possibly. 

One could try enforce the copyright legislation but this varies vastly from place to place and it costs, sometimes a lot. It also creates a negative overall feeling amongst content providers and readers, which would certainly not be of help. A better option would be to raise the journalism bar: readers should learn to ask for more investigative journalism, while at the same time original content providers should try to adapt to the fast publishing rate the online communities want. Content replicators will, of course, always have the right to upgrade their status to content creators or contributors.

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