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Punctiliousness at Poynter?
November 11, 2011 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Journalist/blogger Jim Romenesko resigns from Poynter after questions of "incomplete attribution" in his stories.

The Poynter Institute, which trains journalists and promotes ethical journalism practices, has served as the online home of Jim Romenesko's eponymous blog on daily news and the media for the past 12 years. Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online, apparently getting ahead of a story by an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, revealed yesterday that several of Romenesko's stories had used passages from attributed sources, but had failed to use quotation marks to denote that the passage was taken verbatim from the original source. Here's Moos:

As a reader, I assume text originated with the writer unless quotation marks or blockquotes indicate otherwise. It is incumbent upon the writing and publishing team to signal the reader as clearly as possible. We did not. Moos provided an example of this type of "incomplete attribution" in one of Romenesko's stories, which were not edited by Poynter staff before being published online. Romenesko, who was planning to semi-retire early next year anyway, tendered his resignation. Moos eventually accepted it.

Media critics have weighed in, with most supporting Romenesko, arguing that he never took credit for original reporting and was simply aggregating links. One comment on Moos's post read, "FWIW, as someone who Romenesko has linked various times, I have never given, nor could I imagine giving, a crap about this practice." But, Erik Wemple, writing in his blog for The Washington Post, noted how complicated the issue was:

Moos has a legitimate technical point to address. Follow the logic trail: Romenesko routinely used quotation marks in his summaries; those quotation marks identified text that came directly from the linked story; other text didn’t carry quotation marks. Shouldn’t that always indicate original writing? Isn’t that a standard that wins nods from everyone in the industry?

As he told the New York Times in August, Romenesko will be starting a new blog enterprise early next year with his own original reporting. No word on whether he will change how he incorporates material taken from other sources.
posted by Dalton (41 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a style question not an ethics question, and could have been handled with a company memo or an email.
posted by empath at 10:01 AM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this is something that should have been addressed with him one-on-one if Moos was so concerned and then a clarification note should have been made to the readership after addressing it responding to whatever CJR came out with.

Here's a pointer, Poynter, you're basically nothing without Romanesko. He's the only thing that made you relevant and he's not easily replaced...especially after you threw him under the bus is such a public fashion.
posted by inturnaround at 10:07 AM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


People do this all the time here, and I have to confess, there's a part of me that twitches a little when I see the link text was pulled directly from the source with no quotes, blockquotes, italicization, etc. But, not a firing offense. Plus, hey, it's Romenesko! A little respect there, Ms. Moos. He pretty much invented the form.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:10 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


People do this all the time here, and I have to confess, there's a part of me that twitches a little when I see the link text was pulled directly from the source with no quotes, blockquotes, italicization, etc.

Oh god, I hate it when people do that. SO MUCH.

(Seriously, I do.)
posted by kmz at 10:13 AM on November 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


looking at the example, dude really needed some italics there. On the other hand, not like he didn't link to the bloody thing.
posted by Artw at 10:15 AM on November 11, 2011


People do this all the time here, and I have to confess, there's a part of me that twitches a little when I see the link text was pulled directly from the source with no quotes, blockquotes, italicization, etc.

Heh. It's bold and a different colour!
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on November 11, 2011


"Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online, apparently getting ahead of a story by an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, revealed yesterday that several of Romenesko's stories had used passages from attributed sources"

I don't think that we can consider Moos as throwing Romenesko under the bus if she indeed was trying to beat the CJR to revealing it. From a spin perspective, the offending org shining the light on its own questionable practice, presumably to correct, is far less damaging than an outside party "breaking" the news, all j'accuse! style.

Otherwise, I'm fairly meh on this. Although I do hate it in an FPP when the poster uses a pull quote as the post content and doesn't use quotation marks.
posted by pineapple at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


there's a part of me that twitches a little when I see the link text was pulled directly from the source with no quotes, blockquotes, ....

Yeah, my secret pony request is for a 'blockquote' button on the "B I link" bar.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2011


stupidsexyFlanders: "He pretty much invented the form."

And put Poynter on the map. I'm amazed they didn't have more respect for him.
posted by zarq at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure it was a link on Romenesko's "Obscure Store" blog (which he recently stopped updating) which led me to Metafilter. Sad to see this happen.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think that we can consider Moos as throwing Romenesko under the bus if she indeed was trying to beat the CJR to revealing it.

Poynter has no one but themselves to blame. If Romnesko wasn't doing things in the house style, then they needed to talk to him about it. You don't be a supposed institute of journalism being an ethical watchdog and don't mind your own store. By being lazy and not seeing any issue beforehand, it is throwing him under the bus to do it before the story because Moos looks like she's trying to absolve her own inaction over the years and saying that Romanesko is fully to blame for not following the policy.

Policies mean nothing if no one enforces them.
posted by inturnaround at 10:25 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't be a supposed institute of journalism being an ethical watchdog and don't mind your own store.

Ugh...I should have proofread. I mean "You can't call yourself a journalism institute and be an ethical watchdog and not mind your own store."
posted by inturnaround at 10:29 AM on November 11, 2011


Moos looks like she's trying to absolve her own inaction over the years and saying that Romanesko is fully to blame for not following the policy.

Furthermore, there's no good reason to get out front of a story that is not actually a story. Wait for it to break, and then point out that it is a ridiculous non-story. That's what I'd like to have seen Poynter do here, and thus to make a stand for the position that journalistic ethics is about real questions of right and wrong, not about weird uptight fixations on highly specific traditional rules.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:31 AM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wow, talk about reframing the story. Do we really care whether one of the greatest journalist rebloggers dropped the quotation mark key a few times? Even if he was 100% in the wrong, it seems nuts that it took 10+ years and no complaints from people he linked to before they finally got around to giving him a hard time.

The Awl has a much better perspective on this, talking about the inevitable slide of Poynter from a content site to a keyword stuffing self promoting site. "The headlines became permalinks to the site itself, so it stopped sending much traffic.", etc.
posted by Nelson at 10:52 AM on November 11, 2011


I honestly don't understand how this isn't a black-&-white issue. It comes up often and I always read commentaries from industry insiders talking about it like it's a delicate and complex issue, and I really don't get it. Quotation marks indicate borrowed text, and anything outside quotation marks is yours.
posted by cribcage at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Choire Sicha at The Awl had a good piece about this, including thoughts about the previous "awful to watch" changes Moos had been implementing at Romenesko's blog:

Romenesko's entire practice was about giving credit, in ways that virtually no other blog has been, a position that "Romenesko+" does not embrace as strongly. Poynter has worked systematically to erode a fairly noble, not particularly money-making thing as it works to boost "engagement" and whatever other (highly transitional!) web "best practices" are being touted at the heinous "online journalism" conferences that regularly go on. Charitable with links and naming bylines, and producing even more links when grubby reporters would come emailing with "but I posted that memo just now tooooo!", the intention underlying Romenesko's work has always been directing readers to reported material.
posted by mediareport at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Awl has a much better perspective on this, talking about the inevitable slide of Poynter from a content site to a keyword stuffing self promoting site. "The headlines became permalinks to the site itself, so it stopped sending much traffic.", etc.

Huffington Post and TPM both do this, too, and I loathe it.
posted by empath at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2011


Yes, well, TPM and Huffington Post are both in the business of using other peoples' words to stuff keywords to display advertisements. It's their whole thing. Techmeme is annoying too, particularly if you read the site via RSS.
posted by Nelson at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't give Huffington much time since it turned out they'll run any old anti-vaxxer shit, but are they usually this bizarrely racist?
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on November 11, 2011


Does this mean he'll be devoting his full energy to Starbucks Gossip?
posted by bgrebs at 11:05 AM on November 11, 2011


Julie Moos should be ashamed of the way she's handling all of this. She was obviously looking for an excuse to get rid of Romanesko and managed to partially invent one. As others have pointed out, this is a style issue.
posted by ged at 11:19 AM on November 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


empath: "Huffington Post and TPM both do this, too, and I loathe it."

So does Metafilter. No?
posted by zarq at 11:21 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading the example, I am surprised that the quotes are quotes. I would not have guessed that otherwise. I guess this is "style" but no one else uses that style.
posted by smackfu at 11:35 AM on November 11, 2011


Yeah, it just seems appallingly sloppy and lazy to me.
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Julie Moos related to the Jinny Moos that used to do the quirky reports on CNN back in the day (like, before Operation Catch That Saddam 1 made it the Wolf Blitzer nerwork)?
posted by spicynuts at 12:07 PM on November 11, 2011


I like this comment from the Poynter thread (although since I haven't read Romenesko much since I gave up on my dream of being a journalist around 2004 or so, I can't say how accurate the analogy is): "This reminds me of a cops reporter I knew in South Carolina who would write sentences such as: Police said the man had a 'gun.'"
posted by Ralston McTodd at 12:39 PM on November 11, 2011


As a former (paid) media blogger, I think this is nuts. Why make such a huge deal out of it--no one complained, no one was offended, and considering the way Romensko drove traffic, I doubt anyone was remotely fussed. Moos seems to have a stick up her butt and not the faintest clue as to why he was popular and successful.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:46 PM on November 11, 2011


Why make such a huge deal out of it--no one complained, no one was offended, and considering the way Romensko drove traffic, I doubt anyone was remotely fussed.

Erika Fry of the Columbia Journalism Review contacted Moos to write an article about it. That's how she was hipped to the issue in the first place. The Poynter article was sort of a preemptive strike. I think that they should have waited for the article to be released, say "sorry, but i think Jim's whole style is about getting at the nut of the story and linking, nothing more." and just let it go. Instead, she wrote an article, and it became ... this. Essentially the curtain call on Poynter's credibility. It's a shame, too, because it's been a pretty valuable organization for a while.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 12:49 PM on November 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is only a "story" if you never clicked through on the links to the original sources, and doing what Moos wanted would have made Poynter read like a Zagat review.
posted by Challahtronix at 1:03 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure it was a link on Romenesko's "Obscure Store" blog (which he recently stopped updating) which led me to Metafilter. Sad to see this happen.

This is how I found MeFi in 2000. I choose to believe that Romenesko resigned to protest Poynter's appalling sellout in agreeing to be ESPN's ombudsman. They have minimized or ratified some appalling journalistic and editorial decisions in the last year and a half.
posted by norm at 1:17 PM on November 11, 2011


Erika Fry, the assistant editor at CJR whose initial questions to Moos set everything in motion, has published her take on the whole thing.
posted by Dalton at 2:14 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird tone in that piece, like "don't blame me for what Moos did, I was just asking questions" but then writing things like this:
But I raised the questions because I was coming to believe that recent changes in Poynter’s practices, taken together, are not good for journalists, and run counter to the intended spirit of Romenesko’s blog, which was originally designed to give credit and traffic to journalists, not to steal those things from them.
posted by smackfu at 2:18 PM on November 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


spicynuts: "Is Julie Moos related to the Jinny Moos that used to do the quirky reports on CNN back in the day (like, before Operation Catch That Saddam 1 made it the Wolf Blitzer nerwork)?"

I don't know if they're related, but it's Jeanne Moos. She's still at CNN.
posted by zarq at 3:07 PM on November 11, 2011


Erika Fry, the assistant editor at CJR whose initial questions to Moos set everything in motion, has published her take on the whole thing.

Thanks for posting this. Fry raises lots of good questions ... and Poynter seems to have made a big deal about a relatively minor question, while saying nothing publicly about the more significant issues.

(And Choire Sicha is right about the blog's deterioration since it moved to Poynter's site.)

Poynter has really shot themselves in the foot with this one. I'm just curious to see if anyone else will learn from it.

Huffington Post and TPM both do this, too, and I loathe it.

I refuse to visit the Huffington Post and reward this behavior. I do look at TPM... but yes, I loathe it too.
posted by pmurray63 at 6:48 PM on November 11, 2011


After looking at the example at the "revealed" link above, I'm surprised so many people here appear to be giving Romenesko a pass on this. He used quote marks and block quotes in some cases to indicate quoted text, alongside big lumps of copy-pasted text with no indication that these weren't his own words. That's straightforwardly a violation of the standards of journalism, and a promiment blogger on a journalism ethics site should be held to those standards. 

When you start a sentence with "X says...", you have two choices -- either use X's words directly, with an indication that you're doing so, or paraphrase them. Isn't that the standard that thousands of aspiring journalists at taught at Poynter and elsewhere?

(To be clear: the text is made bold only in Julie Moos' article, not in Romenesko's original. So this isn't just a stylistic quibble over whether bold is an appropriate way to indicate quotations.)
posted by logopetria at 11:26 PM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised so many people here appear to be giving Romenesko a pass on this.

Because, if you look over the history of Romenesko's website, his style was to give you just enough to push you toward the actual story, and add a bit of his own commentary on it. In that, he was way out in front of the Huffpos of the world -- he could summarize, "quote" and actually make a salient comment on something in a way that made you want to read it in just a few sentences.

The whole reason people get up in arms about attributed quotes is because usually the person who borrows them unattributed is trying to keep your eyes on their page as opposed to sending you to theirs. Romenesko's ethic was all about trying to get you interest in what he was reading and onto someone else's page. And he was great at it.

I think this is a situation where the people being "plagiarized" looked at the spirit and context of this unattributed information, which is always surrounded by blockquoted, attributed information, and thought "Who gives a shit?"

Jack Shafer, another media writer, had this to say about the whole thing:
the perplexing thing about the Romenesko dust-up is that, as Moos notes, nobody ever noticed Romenesko’s style of non-attribution until Columbia Journalism Review assistant editor Erika Fry brought it to Poynter’s attention. Those nobodies include the Poynter editors who have been reading Romenesko’s work behind him for the last 12 years. (Romenesko has traditionally posted his copy without going through an editor.) Other nobodies apparently include the thousands of journalists Romenesko has summarized over the years. According to the Moos post, no writer or publication had ever told Poynter “their words were being co-opted.

...

How is it that the incomplete attribution escaped Romenesko’s readers notice for so long? Vain journalists—is there any other kind?—love to scream plagiarism. They love to scream it not just when their words are lifted but when they think their ideas have been purloined! Given that Romenesko’s blog is the most avidly read page in the journalism business, one would think that his “incompleteness” would have been uncovered earlier.

Yet it wasn’t.I’ve read every Romenesko condensation of my work since his column began, but as I tweeted yesterday, the only unusual thing I ever noticed about his work was a knack for locating my misplaced openings and highlighting them.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:33 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, things like this did get several reporters fired from my college paper, and would certainly have gotten them fired at the local daily.

On the other, Romenesko's itent was clearly not to plagiarize, and it also speaks much worse of the myriad editors he's had that not one of them caught this in 12 years.
posted by klangklangston at 9:37 AM on November 12, 2011


Romenesko's ethic was all about trying to get you interest in what he was reading and onto someone else's page.

I didn't read Romenesko's blog but that seems to be the larger point that Fry's column is making, that increasingly that blog was regurgitating entire articles and leaving no reason for readers to visit the source page.
posted by cribcage at 10:13 AM on November 12, 2011


that seems to be the larger point that Fry's column is making, that increasingly that blog was regurgitating entire articles and leaving no reason for readers to visit the source page.

Exactly. Except I don't believe that Romenesko was writing those entries, it was other people at Poynter (they were the "plus" in the blog renamed "Romenesko+" this summer, you see). Not everything at Romeneso+ was by Romenesko.

Romenesko's itent was clearly not to plagiarize, and it also speaks much worse of the myriad editors he's had that not one of them caught this in 12 years.

He didn't have an editor for most of that time; he was a one-man operation. At some point Poynter bought him/the blog to be at their site to drive traffic. Which I can confidently predict will now desert them.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:55 PM on November 12, 2011


The article said that he had editors, but they only edited after he went live. Which still means they should have caught it and spoken to him about it.
posted by klangklangston at 7:30 PM on November 13, 2011


Romanesko tells his side
posted by smackfu at 1:30 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


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