Should Newspapers Hattip?

The battlelines between journalists and bloggers have long been drawn with all the old, familiar criticisms.

Journalists pshaw bloggers lack of journalistic cred, while bloggers scoff at journalists meager understanding of the online medium and all that it offers.  This furious “why I’m important and you’re not” argument is indicative of any medium in transition.   Its a fight for professional survival.

But in my opinion, there’s a much more interesting conflict out there that isn’t getting nearly enough attention.

Newspapers have long gnashed their teeth regarding the frequent blogger action of using “fair use excerpts” from their articles in postings.  At their best, these excerpts give bloggers a jumping off point where they take a recent topic discussed in a paper and use it to steer the conversation in another direction, providing a different and often more critical point of view.  At their worst, “fair use” is interpreted too liberally, resulting in excerpts that are anything but, leaving the blog reader with little reason to click-over to the actual article.

This issue has long put thoughtful bloggers on the defensive, with each having to personally reconcile this reliance on a disapproving host.   My own solution includes cutting out most “fair use excerpts” from my posts and instead I provide general summaries in my own words.   Its not a perfect, guilt-free methodology.  I acknowledge that if I “over-summarize”, I pose the same risk as the liberal “excerpter” and veer into those dangerous waters where the click-over becomes unnecessary.

But it is on this point that I wish to turn the tables on newspapers and provide a long overdue counterpoint to the “fair use” rage.

…and ask, should newspapers hattip?

While the newspaper industry has no real history of giving print credit to their sources when obtaining leads and tips on stories, when they enter the realm of blogs – where CREDIT (aka hattiping) is KING, do they have a responsibility that they aren’t fulfilling?

On many occasions over the past year, Decatur-related stories that originate on this site – thanks either to my own efforts or to those of my intrepid neighbors – have been picked up by the AJC.  They usually flush flesh the story out, get a couple of quotes and move on.  No mention of where the story came from or how it ended up on someone’s desk down on Marietta Street.  Was there a press release?  Did the city call them up and ask if they were available to cover an event?  Or did they pull it off a blog?

And IF the story is pulled off a blog, where it originated, does the newspaper have an obligation to give it credit?  If not, how is this lack of acknowledgment any less severe than the blogger’s “fair use excerpts?”  At a minimum, in an effort at full disclosure, the blogger will usually give credit and a hyperlink when invoking the “fair use excerpt.”  The newspaper, on the other hand, provides no transparency when it comes to its life-blood: sources.

Is this a fair trade?

I’m not sure.  And I’m not convinced that newspapers are even willing to engage in this discourse yet. But as newspapers continue to move online and more successful hyper-local blogs fill the gap, be prepared for this debate to intensify.

Summed up another way – Will the raucusly free internet destroy the integrity of Journalism (with a capital “J”)?  Or will blogs influence newspapers to be more open about their sources?