Letters to the editor

Readers weigh in on the March/April issue, and online stories
May 11, 2015

Copy and Paste

Marc Fisher’s piece (“Steal this idea” March/April) angered me. If journalists want to be taken seriously as professionals, shouldn’t they act professionally? Stealing each other’s work, even a little bit of copying, doesn’t seem professional to me. If you write a story and include basic facts already published by somebody else, you should really credit the publication.

I have failed to do that a couple of times myself. In articles that featured my own reporting, I failed to credit the Connecticut Post in one instance, the Hartford Courant in another, with having first reported some of the facts and names that, by the time I wrote my story, were out there, in the public domain. I regret not crediting those papers and have not, as far as I now recall, repeated that lapse.

But I have never, and would never, lift chunks of another’s work and present it as my own. To me that is much worse than failing to credit another publication with having first reported a name or fact.

The work I write is my own work. If there’s credit or blame to be meted out, I should be the one to be credited or blamed; but it will be my work, not somebody else’s.

Robert Davey

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Survival guide

The tactics outlined (“Survival strategies of an online freelancer” March / April) only covered part of the marketplace for freelancers to make a living writing Web content. Missing was the tremendous opportunity openminded journalists have to write for corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, and educational institutions—what I’ve called “brand journalism” since I first wrote about this back in 2009.

A fascinating convergence is upon us as mainstream media outlets reduce staff journalists and cut freelance budgets. At the same time, many organizations are desperately seeking people to create interesting information online that serves to educate and inform consumers. People in companies now realize Web marketing success comes from creating content-rich websites, videos, podcasts, photos, charts, ebooks, white papers, and other valuable content. Which is where freelance journalists come in.

You went to J-school to learn how to tell a story in words and images. Yes, the employers who traditionally hired your skills are shrinking fast. But there is an entirely new world out there for you to consider.

I’m not talking about PR and media relations here. This isn’t about writing press releases and trying to get your former colleagues to write or broadcast about you. Nor am I advocating the old-school “advertorial” model. Instead, I’m talking about creating stories as you are now, but instead of a media company, you create content for the likes of the Alzheimer’s Association, IBM, or Whole Foods to appear on their blogs, websites, and in ebooks, videos and the like.

Most journalists I’ve spoken with have not seriously considered that there are tens of thousands of potential employers outside of media companies. You don’t need to compromise your integrity. You still tell stories. You still practice your craft. You still have followers who care about what you do. You still change people’s lives.

David Meerman Scott

The Plagiarist’s Dream Come True

(“The rules of plagiarism” and “Steal this idea” March/April)

The pen is mightier than the sword

The plagiarist’s dream’s

he weapon of word

Fair is foul and foul is fair

Virtue’s right but also rare

To the victor doth the spoils go

Success the goal, creativity’s foe

I’ll make assurance double sure

That this poem ever pure

Never falls to such a height

For what is wrong if wrong is right?

This above all

o thine own self be true

Something old is something new

Ivan Smason


You went to J-school to learn how to tell a story in words and images. . . . But there is an entirely new world out there.

Good times

As a longtime newspaper owner with editorial work as my raison d’être, I think I have a better idea than most of what is happening to the Tampa Bay Times (“The fight of its life” March/April). If ALL the newspapers in the US had served the public and their advertisers as the Times did and does, these could be the best of times for the newspaper business.

Unfortunately the bean counters, MBAs and ad managers who run and ran most of the papers and chains never really understood what made the business valuable to readers and advertisers. They were also so tunnel visioned, lazy, stupid and greedy that they missed every chance to make the winning moves.

For one thing, instead of embracing the internet and seeing it as their growing liberation from the newsprint industry and postal service, they mostly resisted it as long as they could.

They could have and should have put digital reproductions of their papers online at a nominal fee so the current and former residents of their communities could have had access from anywhere.

Instead, what they did was take the content those original advertisers paid to create, repackaged it and sold it to other advertisers for the online versions. That diluted the audience for the hard copy ads, reduced their reach and penetration and increased their cost per thousand. Instead of giving advertisers reasons to be happier about new and added benefits which would have made them happy and loyal, they ripped them off and drove them away.

The Times was one of the few papers that put readers first to create an excellent medium for advertisers. The chains all put the short term interests of the investors first and advertisers and readers tied for last.

Advertisers do not create campaigns and programs for one newspaper. They either have campaigns created for newspapers or they don’t. Because the industry generally made every stupid, greedy move they could, they killed the whole flock of golden geese and seriously wounded the Tampa Bay Times.

All of this is not only very sad news for the industry I love, I believe it is tragic for democracy. Imagine what Tampa Bay and Florida would be like without the constant monitoring, investigation, analysis, questioning and productive commentary the Tampa Bay Times has contributed over the years. Can you imagine any other medium replacing that essential element of democracy? Consider the organizations that will be chortling with glee at the thought that the Tampa Bay Times will be less of a challenge to every enterprise working against the interests of the people.

David Cadogan

Neighborhood story

Picking up my paper copy of CJR and skimming through the contents, I passed over the Viewfinder piece (“On the Corner” March/April) by David Uberti and continued onto other articles. Abruptly, I did a mental double-take and returned to the excellent snapshot of South Bronx photographer, Osaretin Ugiagbe.

After reading it, I wondered what caused me to initially skate over the piece. The only explanation I could think of was that the material was simply not new to me. While I do not know, and have never met Mr. Ugiagbe, I am quite familiar with his type.

He appears to be a talented, intelligent and articulate part of the fabric of the culture, art and creativity that is the young Bronx. Being a product of the borough, I am not surprised by the description presented by Mr. Uberti. It is hardly necessary to be reminded of the challenges faced by young people living and learning in the Bronx. Nor is it necessary to remind those of us who work with the talented young people from the Bronx, that we are indeed fortunate. This is an overflowing talent pool that traditional industries of media and journalism ignore at their own peril.

In 15 years of working in the Bronx with students at CUNY’s Lehman College, I am continually amazed at not only the quality of work, but the challenges overcome by a new generation of journalists, photographers, videographers, editors and filmmakers. It’s nice (and necessary) once in a while to pause and appreciate the talented folks from our own neighborhood.

Jim Carney 

Notes from our online readers

Your piece on the Rolling Stone debacle (“Should there have been firings at Rolling Stone?” April 2015 ) was spot on. As a 17-year publisher and 12 years as president of Hearst Newspapers, I am surprised that not once did I read about the role of the pre-publication lawyer(s). Not a mention, but admittedly I didn’t read everything printed on this subject. Over the years, I took a personal interest in tough stories and challenged reporters, editors, and lawyers to have stories properly sourced and seriously vetted . . . if you couldn’t nail it tight, spike it.

Thanks for your contribution to this issue.

George Irish

I just read your excellent report about Rolling Stone’s handling of its “A rape on campus” story. [The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has] done a valuable service to journalism. Every journalist and journalism student should read your report.

I do wish to point out one thing that appears to be contradictory. The report says, “Social scientists analyzing crime records report that the rate of false rape allegations is 2 to 8 percent.” Yet, the report you link to suggests the range is 2 to 10 percent.

Also, I don’t mean to quibble but such studies do not “report” anything in the sense that their conclusions are fact; they can only “suggest” or “indicate” since they are estimates based (hopefully) on representative samples of cases.

But these are minor issues compared to the overall value of your report.

Frank Carroll

As a veteran copy editor and writer at the Toronto Star, I really enjoyed the story about the fear of screwing up (“Fear of screwing up,” April 2015).

I remember David Carr learning early in his career the delicate balancing act of putting enough detail in a story to make it interesting but taking out some detail to ensure total accuracy. Who will know what you took out? That was what he learned.

I try to follow that code.

Curtis Rush

Toronto Star Sports Reporter


Putting a bad platform into cars and making it available to more people doesn’t make it better.

I can’t say I enjoyed reading that story today (“Can Tony Haile save journalism by changing the metric?” March 2015)—but I certainly scrolled through it all the way down. Therefore I spent time on that page!

It is a fascinating topic. And the writer obviously has put in a lot of time into it.

Sadly, the problem with these magazine-style stories—i.e. very long—is that many times the actual theme of the story is lost. Or was there actually a theme, a thread throughout this one to keep your reader on track?

And so maybe the old subhead paragraph—actually summarizing the actual heart of the story—could be an interesting exercise for CJR?

Anyhow—like most journalists, I like to stand on my soap box and share “my” views!

In this case—I found the topic really fascinating but grew frustrated at how long and wordy the piece was. Or is it a “digital info consumption” bias: impatience?

But this read felt like an amazing single malt scotch that had too much melting ice into it and thus diluting it to the point of little enjoyment.

Ch.A. R.

Your response to the failings of Justin Heifetz’s piece on the Bangkok Post (“Pork, bullets, and my rocky stint at the Bangkok Post,” April 2015) is disappointing. You air the factual errors, which is good, but don’t acknowledge that these undermine his authority. On the contrary, you say “none of them challenged the general thrust of Heifetz’s narrative or perspective.” That’s nonsense, really. You wouldn’t say that of some junior reporter who trashed the Times and got so much wrong in the process.

I have worked in journalism for more than three decades. I went to journalism school in the US and I have consulted and coached journalists at the Bangkok Post. The failings of the Post are much more serious than anything Heifetz says. But because you didn’t check him or his allegations out, you’ve now made you and him look stupid and the Bangkok Post good. What a missed opportunity. There is indeed a critique to be made of the Post, but this was not it.

Graham Watts

Worthy journalists, well-deserved honors, fine old paper, but shouldn’t an organization of such strength be forthright about accusations made against it by the country’s premier journalism observers, the Columbia Journalism Review (“Virginian-Pilot editor resigns after a long career, staff cuts, and a crisis,” March 2015)? Unless I’ve missed something—please forgive me if I have—neither The Virginian Pilot nor any Tidewater opinion leader has publicly engaged the charges [on CJR]. Sometimes the Pilot even deletes comments like this one, on the untenable grounds that they’re “off topic”—even though the topic is precisely the character of Pilot journalism. Wednesday’s “HearSay” at noon, 89.5 FM, convenes a journalists’ “round table.” Will they finally clear this up? Will the Pilot keep avoiding forthrightness?

Steven T. Corneliussen

I loved your article on “The economics of the Podcast boom” (March 2015). You identified two key factors that are limiting growth as well as several items that most podcasters and listeners notice. One is viewership and the other is that podcasts are not inherently social. I would like to add a third and that is the platform. iTunes is the standard and where most people get their podcasts from. It has not been updated or “rethought” since 2006. Putting a bad platform into cars and making it available to more people doesn’t make it better, or make it grow.

I hear podcasters weekly touting the fact that iOS 8 put the app as an integrated “undeletable” part of its makeup and it will be in cars coming out of Detroit as evidence that everyone will be doing it. To this I tell people that Internet explorer comes on every PC, but most of us download Chrome or Firefox as part of our initial setup. Those who opt to use Internet Explorer have Bing as the default search engine yet that hasn’t allowed it to overtake Google. I will take the extra step to type Google before I do a search to avoid Bing. You did mention Overcast and Soundcloud as other options, but they along with Stitcher are just another variation of the same thing. What we need to do to move podcasts from niche to mainstream is a new platform that creates an addictive social environment, utilizing what the core strength of podcasts are. If we do that, you will see podcasting literally explode and move from the shadows to a leader in user interaction.


Editor’s note: Reader feedback has been edited for length and clarity.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.