On Monday, when we were talking about Ian Shapira’s gripe with Gawker excerpting his Post material too heavily, I noted that mainstream media outlets have a widespread and unfortunate tendency to refuse crediting any rival outlet — print, online, TV, whatever — with being first on a story if they can somehow get away with it. Here’s a great example.
My friend Noah Shachtman runs Wired‘s Danger Room groupblog. For the past week, he’s broken and advanced a story about the Marines banning social media like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace from its networks. This comes on top of years’ worth of reporting on the military’s adjustment to Web 2.0. If you’ve read anything about this issue, it’s because of Noah — either his stuff directly, or people ripping his stuff off. The Pentagon’s public affairs second-in-command, Price "Straight Outta CNAS" Floyd, is currently tweeting about the merits and drawbacks of social media. Noah is why.
Here’s a Los Angeles Times story about the social media ban that doesn’t reference Noah at all. Here’s a Wall Street Journal story about the social media ban that doesn’t reference Noah at all. Here’s an AFP story about the social media ban that doesn’t reference Noah at all. Here’s a Christian Science Monitor story about the social media ban that doesn’t reference Noah at all. Here’s a Voice of America story about the social media ban that, perversely, references the AP, AFP and Reuters and doesn’t reference Noah at all.
This isn’t the fault of any individual reporter. It’s the fault of an outdated newspaper convention that equates proper referencing with an admission of professional failure. Before the internet, it was pretty easy to get away with slighting your colleagues. But now that everyone has GoogleNews at their fingertips, it looks like exactly what it is: churlish and archaic vanity. Everyone can see who got the story first. Not a single reader, I’ll bet, will ever say, "Aha! Because Noah Shachtman got the story first, clearly Julian Barnes is an inferior reporter!"
It’s not just blogs, either. There are a ton of specialist newsletters doing deep in-the-weeds reporting — Inside the Pentagon is one — that newspapers treat like uncreditable wire copy. This has to end. I credited Bloomberg and the LAT in my story today, because they got material I used. It didn’t hurt my pride or discredit my piece. Not citing itwould have, though.