Journalistic Superiority at Work

Could one of only two remaining daily British broadsheet newspapers be so desperate as to steal blog content?

This past Thursday Claire Zulkey of MediaBistro Toolbox did a hilarious riff on my 5 Signs Your Blog Post is Going Horribly Wrong. She essentially committed each of the five sins in a purposeful train wreck of a post that was so out there is was actually quite compelling.

Today, as I marveled that traffic was still coming in from her post, I noticed a few hits coming in from The Daily Telegraph in the UK. Now that’s something I’ll definitely go check out.

I’m shocked when I click and see that it is Claire’s post (now down, here’s the cached version at MSN), only with a different headline. Even Claire’s reference to her home town of Chicago is unchanged, though this post was ostensibly written by features contributor Melissa Whitworth, who is located at The Daily Telegraph’s New York bureau.

No attribution to Claire or Media Bistro. So I email Claire, and it suffices to say that she is not pleased to see her work republished verbatim without permission, much less attribution.

Not by an RSS scraper, but by a newspaper founded in 1855!

I find this quite incredible. Does Ms. Whitworth not realize that we notice things like this? And while the only thing connecting the two posts was a link to me, I do happen to have an audience full of other bloggers.

Or as mere bloggers, should we just allow this type of stuff to continue within the hallowed halls of journalism? I just don’t understand how so-called professional writers think they can get away with this stuff.

If the Telegraph post changes or comes down prior to a formal retraction and apology, I’ll post my screenshots for clarity.

UPDATE: Here’s Claire’s thoughts on the matter.

UPDATE 2: The Telegraph removes the offending post, but the cache lives on.

UPDATE 3: Melissa explains here. While yesterday I couldn’t imagine a plausible explanation, this sounds like it could be true. Who knew, as easy as it is, that she doesn’t even post to her own blog?

So, giving her the benefit of the doubt, I’ll go ahead and apologize as well.

Sorry Melissa, but you have to understand that it looked really bad. And how this got posted by mistake is still beyond me. It shows a breakdown in the editorial process at the Telegraph in any event.

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Reader Comments (68)

  1. Alien Squirrel says

    No, we should certainly NOT let plagiarism pass, which is exactly what this is. And I’d love to see Claire sue the bastards.

    But unless I missed it, there’s no copyright or CC bug anywhere on Claire’s site. Without a copyright notice, is there a legitimate legal case?

    It’s sure a good argument for a copyright notice on EVERY page.

  2. says

    It does make you wonder, doesn’t it, Brian, just how long this might have been happening before blogs and link technology? If it happens so naturally, then it must be something that some folks do without thinking . . . as if it is part of the culture.

    I wish I could email our friend Trevor.

  3. says

    Oddly enough, I’m not shocked. I just hope that the newspaper has the good sense to back down from this one. I recall a case recently where a newspaper plagiarized from the Associated Press plagiarized from a blog and brushed it off by saying “We don’t credit blogs”. They eventually backed off from that.

    However, you can read the old information here:

    It’s a wonderful but also a very scary time to be a writer. I hope that I can help change the scary part…

  4. says

    Alien, copyright exists upon creation. All they would have to do is register the copyright before filing suit.

    Liz, I was just thinking of Trevor. Is there no way to get his attention? And isn’t the Financial Times the only other broadsheet newspaper left in the UK?

    Jonathan, they would be insane to do anything other than fire this chick and apologize.

  5. says

    I left her the following comment (she didn’t have any others posted yet):

    “In the blog heading, it says you are in New York & live in Greenwich Village, but the 1st sentence of the post says that you’re sitting in your apartment in Chicago. Which is it? I’m confused (or, was that the point?).”

  6. says

    caught red-handed, and more than sue the bastards (I’d expect this “journalist” to be shown the door, nothing less) in the court of public opinion The Daily Telegraph is tarnished.

  7. says

    John M. — I didn’t see your comment, and when I tried to leave one of my own, I notice it didn’t appear to have gone through. If the Telegraph is deliberately disabling the comment feature to avoid negative feedback, I think that’s as much of a story about how to do things wrong online as Melissa’s plagiarism.

  8. says

    “I find this quite incredible. Does Ms. Whitworth not realize that we notice things like this ? ”

    No, she and hundreds of thousands of others in her position and age bracket ( over 18 ) have no idea that we can track IP’s, follow an email trail, check whole blocks of content for plagarism in seconds and do the other things we do to see where taffic and pings come from.

    I found this out recently as I began teaching the employees of a corporation to blog.

    Most of these college educated, professional people are absolutely clueless.

  9. says

    This isn’t the first time. I am sure a lot of newspapers are copy pasting content online without the permission of the authors.

    And many a times it is with a headline change and posted as own content!

    While RSS Scrapers can be really annoying, a newspaper doing it simply takes the cake!

  10. says

    These comments aren’t entirely relevant to the story but..

    1. At least it wasn’t a good newspaper involved here. The Daily Telegraph is far from the pinnacle of British journalism (although it’s still better than the Daily Mail).

    2. These blogs are generally backwaters for the newspaper columnists to put out their worst content that doesn’t make it into the paper.. so I doubt this post made it into the paper.

  11. says

    Hmm, does this mean anything? :)

    “Telegraph Logo

    Page Not Found

    “We’re sorry, but we were unable to find the page you requested.

    “We have recently migrated some content over from an old blogging engine, so it’s possible that we haven’t migrated the item you were looking for.”



  12. says

    Brian, I think she should go after the paper. How else will we potty train them to be “professional”? I have a buddy over at that is suing someone for impresonating him online. It’s a pain, but necessary.


  13. says

    Awesome post, bucktown – I knew that magazines and papers used airbrushing, but never thought it was for reasons like that.

    Note: if you go to the link to the USA Today site, they’ve changed the image back to the original one… how insane is that?

    It’s crazy… and like someone up there said, it’s an exciting yet scary time to be a writer these days… people just don’t understand that a blog is just like a hardcover book in terms of copyright. It just gets published faster and the pages don’t get wet even if you spill your hot chocolate.

  14. says

    Really quite astonishing. The Times, of course, knows better than this. It will be interesting to hear an explanation.

  15. says

    Yes, the one thing that still puzzles me is the changed headline. If someone actually thought the email was Melissa’s work, why change the (better) existing headline to the lame one they ran?

    Blogging and Cucumbers? Please.

  16. Core.B says

    David: I agree, if she would have had any integrity, she would have posted somewhere else besides her own blog (like this thread).

    One of the unspoken rules with blogging (that I’ve observered) is to apologize where the conversation is happening.

    It’s not like she doesn’t know this conversation is happening, I’m sure enough people posted comments on her article (like me) about this. Hell, she isn’t even allowing comments to show up on her own post, they’re still filtering them.

  17. Core.B says

    I take part of that back, she is allowing comments through on the apology post. It was the original post that comments weren’t allowed through.

  18. says

    I’m not convinced that it matters why the original post was plagiarized. It shouldn’t have been possible for that to happen in the first place.

  19. says

    Quad, I literally laughed out loud when I saw your comment. How silly of me to alienate an attractive woman.

    Oh wait, I’m married.

    Honey, I scored points, right? :)

  20. says

    Brian, if she doesn’t write about blogs, why does she have “blogging” as a tag, with a story placed there?

    Check out her blog roll! I don’t trust her just for that. The “terrible mistake” is someone caught her.


  21. says

    I believe Melissa’s story, but why on earth would you separate the “post” button from the poster herself?

    If you have that much distrust in your employees, you may as well save the hassle (and the money) and fire them already.

  22. says

    I guess we gotta take her word for it, but it still smells dodgy to me.

    I’d love to see the Media Bistro email newsletter she forwarded onto her editor because that would show us exactly what the editor saw – headline, byline, text and I’m assuming a Media Bistro plug of some sort.

    In other words: the editor should have known!

    Bloggers all too often get slapped down by mainstream media as lacking writing, research and fact checking skills.

    Well this doesn’t instill much confidence in me in old media.

    Sloppy editorial work at best, caught red-handed now covering up at worst. I guess we’ll never know.

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