Monday, 12 January 2009

TV heist story

Updated: WTVH pulls story, apologizes

Neate Sager
is an Ottawa Sun copy editor and school sports writer. He is also a dedicated after hours blogger with a popular sports-themed site called Out Of Left Field.

All of his passions came together the other day after he wrote a story about Josh Wright, an Ottawa Gee-Gees basketball guard out of Syracuse, N.Y., for the Ottawa Sun.

When WTVH, a CBS affiliate in Syracuse cut and pasted his Jan. 8 story with a little rewriting without permission, Neate challenged WTVH then vented on his blog yesterday.

Update from Neate:

"(Update, Jan. 12, 5:20 p.m. — the story has been taken down from WTVH-5's website and its sports director apologized "wholeheartedly" over the phone. That is a good start. Phone calls to the station's president and GM, Matthew A. Rosenfeld, have not been returned.)"

Before the story was pulled:

"They tried to cover their tracks by saying 'Reprinted from Ottawa Sun,' but it was not authorized," Neate writes on his blog. "At best, it's not fair use and at worst it is out and out plagiarism.

"The fact it is was the third most popular story (on WTVH) as of midnight Sunday is cold comfort, especially when it's your work and you're not getting any of the revenues. Not to get on the high-horse, but the facts are on my side."

Says Neate: "Hopefully my ant overlords will talk to their ant overlords, and this will be smoothed out to everyone's satisfaction. I'm pissed off and don't know when that will not be the case."

Cutting and pasting by lazy bloggers and unscrupulous reporters too lazy to research and write their own material shouldn't be tolerated and you would think a CBS affiliate would know better.

Does "Reprinted from the Ottawa Sun" cut it when, as Neate says, permission was not authorized?

The least you should do is add your own local quotes in a rewrite and attribute any original content to the source within the story. That is fair play.

That's what we did nightly on the Toronto Sun rewrite desk when the first editions of the Star and the Globe arrived by cab at 333.

We always tried to "make it ours" with quick phone calls for fresh quotes and a rewrite, but we never lifted chunks of copy from the competition and used it verbatim.

Depending on the copy editor, quotes too meaty not to use in the Sun were attributed to the Star or Globe by name and he or she "told another newspaper."

Personally, this rewrite guy always preferred "told the Star" or "told the Globe." It is more respectful of the competition and their reporters and it adds to the credibility of the Sun.

Avoiding mention of the competition, as some TV talk show hosts do - i.e. "on the other network" - always sounds so petty. Gimble's and Macy's adopted the mature approach way back when.

Meanwhile, Kudos to Neate for taking a stand.


  1. Electronic media routinely steal from real journalists in the print world and put their own byline on the copy. CFRA in Ottawa does it all the time from newspaper web sites. That doesn't make it right, it's just a reflection of slipping standards and principles and the growing pressure to keep web sites timely.

  2. Typical of TV and radio is bad for this as well. Some mornings you can hear the radio reporters in my town reading and turning the pages of the paper.

    And we have this ridiculous policy of writing "told a Toronto newspaper" or along that lines instead of giving proper recognition to the reporter and/or paper who did the work.

  3. TV reporters here in Winnipeg thieve from newspapers, as do radio types. It's been going on forever and won't disappear anytime soon. The Winnipeg Free Press website breaks 90 per cent of the news here but the broadcast people take the stories and state they've uncovered the stories. It is a dirty business and the media are not made up of saints, that's for sure. But no point crying about it. Good website, by the way.