The Associated Press says it doesn't credit blogs, but it does.--

In an odd story at HuffPost (tip to Instapundit), Larisa Alexandrovna says that two weeks of work on a story she wrote for an online news service was ripped off by the Associated Press. The story involved changes in security clearance standards that might affect gays, lesbians, and bi-sexuals. She complained to the AP:

We contacted an AP senior editor and ombudsmen both and both admitted to having had the article passed on to them, and both stated that they viewed us as a blog and because we were a blog, they did not need to credit us. . . . [W]we made a point of tape recording the AP apparatchiks admitting to taking our work and using it without attribution, stating "we do not credit blogs".

But it gets stranger: According to Alexandrovna, AP didn't just take her work, they misattributed the work to other people. Even if there were some legitimate reason for AP's policy, that would not justify misleading readers. The AP wrote:

"Lesbian and gay advocacy groups recently found the change in an 18-page document distributed by National security adviser Stephen Hadley on Dec. 29, without public notice." Yes, the groups had found it in my article, which they gave to the AP.

But the strangeness doesn't stop there. The AP does credit bloggers.

I did a search of the last 7 days of AP headlines and stories and got 52 hits for the word "blog." One might also search for "blogger."

Although most of these stories did not credit blogs, some did. The first AP story I skimmed discussed several bloggers and included this statement, which sounded like credit:

A self-described Iraqi blogger translated one of the documents for the American blog - a Sept. 15, 2001, memo from the Iraqi intelligence service that reported about an Afghan source who had been told that a group from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban had visited Iraq.

Or consider this AP story:

Blogger Glenn Reynolds of predicted Summers' fall would help conservatives pass bills monitoring academic freedom - including one currently under consideration in South Dakota's legislature.

AP was apparently referring to this post at Instapundit:

MORE ON SOUTH DAKOTA'S intellectual diversity legislation. I'm guessing that the publicity over the Larry Summers affair will give this sort of thing a boost.

Unless I'm missing something, it appears that AP does sometimes credit things that they read on blogs and then quote or paraphrase.

I find this story triply strange.

B. B.:
The 'ripping things from a blog without credit' is going to come up a lot it seems, as this is the second time in a week I've read about something like this. Last week ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd took some material from a blog (The M Zone), a joke Wonderlic test that the bloggers had written. He read it on air but never credited them, and there was a big uproar and campaign on some websites to e-mail Mr. Cowherd and the ESPN Ombudsman to complain. Cowherd did his mea culpa today and credited the blog.
3.27.2006 7:14pm
Martin L Shoemaker (mail) (www):
Charitable theory: they mention bloggers whenever the bloggers were active participants in the story, not just observers or reporters. In the first example you cite, the blogger was active as a translator. In the second, this theory doesn't hold up so well.

Uncharitable theory: they mention bloggers whenever they want to implicitly discredit one side of the story, since the AP assumes that "blogger" equals "unreliable".

Probable theory: the AP isn't consistent in matters of blogging, because they still don't know how to deal with blogs.
3.27.2006 7:37pm
M. Lederman (mail):
It's interesting how mores change so quickly. The general practice within the mainstream media is that if a competitor breaks a story, you must cite them, because it would be unseemly to take credit that others deserve. (This assumes, of course, that "breaking" a story that everyone else would have five minutes later is worthy of any credit -- but that's another topic for another day.)

But there's no such common understanding when it comes to blogs, precisely because blogs are generally not written by professionls who make a living trying to "break stories."

I know from experience. (I don't mean to boast here -- I'm sure this has happened to many of you bloggers out there much more often than it's happened to me.) Occasionally reporters for mainstream papers have "broken" stories, mostly on torture-related issues, that they learned from my postings on Balkinization or SCOTUSblog -- without attribution. Nine times out of ten, they do so after speaking to me, and sometimes they even offer to quote me on the issue. I urge them to link to the blog instead -- but I've come to expect the negative response. This is fine with me. Indeed, in most cases, the MSM reporters add great value to the story, not only by disseminating it far more widely than I could ever hope to do, but also by doing the ordinary investigation and legwork that is characteristic of their trade (but not ours), and thereby filling out the story. (Compare, for example, this post of mine with this Newsweek story, which contains many more details, and confirmation of the suppositions I made on the blog.)

But they are very averse to crediting a blog. I think this is mostly because they see something unseemly about the notion of a reporter getting information by websurfing (which anyone could do), rather than by good, ol'-fashioned gumshoeing. Obviously, however, the sands are shifting, because some bloggers are insisting on credit, and, when they do, it's quite an embarrassment to the mainstream reporters who "broke" the story. As soon as it is not seen as humiliating that a reporter got wind of a story from a blog, the credit will flow.

Even so, I think this is a tempest in a teapot. The real issue that should obsess journalists is not "breaking" a story, but filling it out with important details and making it come alive in a way that would be impossible on a blog. Here's a great example, which involves both "breaking" some important facts and, at least as importantly, giving narrative cohesion and life to a bunch of facts that were already "broken."
3.27.2006 7:46pm
trotsky (mail):
Jane Mayers' story still makes me twitch with anger.

But on the main point, blatant media theft is pretty common. AP sucks up information unattributed from its member papers (if the blog isn't a member, that does raise a different issue), which is frequently then reported by competitors of the original "breaker" with no mention of source.

I wouldn't be surprised if different AP "apparatchiks" gave different answers because the organization is still working out policy. Since blogs aren't so easy to categorize, confusion would not be surprising.
Is it more like a private research group (i.e., the Milken Foundation)? Is the blogger committing journalism? Is it just a citizen pundit whose tips can be freely used? (AP doesn't credit "Joe at the bar for the genesis of this story.")
3.27.2006 9:09pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
Are we talking uncopyrightable idea or copyrightable expression, or unfair competition in the news business?

Sorry, I've been working on a state supreme court brief all day; and my brain is fried.

Marty, maybe reporters are more likely to source you because of the common practice of consulting professors on the subject matter.
3.27.2006 9:21pm
mhslacker (mail):
OK, I totally know how this happened. Press releases become news all the time.. The AP got press releases from the advocacy groups, and followed their normal procedures. Since press release authors don't want to be credited, the AP was understandably surprised when this blogger called up and reported herself to be the source of the material they printed.
3.27.2006 9:24pm
M. Lederman (mail):
Wintermute: Uncopyrightable ideas and facts. And sorry if I was unclear: They are not likely to source (or even mention) my blogposts; as a concession, they often offer to quote me without mentioning the blog.
3.27.2006 9:37pm
countertop (mail):
Seems to me that the actual AP policy is something along the lines of

We don't credit blogs unless those blogs have sufficient readership (or financial backing) to actually take us on.
3.27.2006 10:13pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Larisa Alexandrovna seems to be claiming that the AP misappropriated both her original expression and her facts. Presumably, the later wouldn't fall under copyright infringement, but the former would. And, to add insult to injury, the AP ultimately attributed the facts to having been found by gay advocacy groups, who found them in her work.

However, the misappropriated facts may fall under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act (15 USC 1125) as a false designation of origin. It would seem that since this is the AP's stock in trade, that it would qualify as a good or service used in commerce.
3.27.2006 10:34pm
Charles Iragui (mail):
Is "Alexandrovna" really a last name? In Russian this would be called an "otchestva", a sort of formal middlename, based on one's father's given name. "ovna" is how otchestvas terminate in the case of women. "ovich" is how they'd end for men. For instance, Gorbachev's full name is:

Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev

AlexandrOVA would be a last name for a woman (male: Alexandrov). This last name may or may not exist but it would be formed like this.

My guess is that "Larissa Alexandrovna" is just a web name and that we don't know her family name.

If true, she's not making accreditation any easier...
3.27.2006 11:22pm
Dexter Westbrook (mail):
I work for the AP. The Associated Press does not have an ombudsman (or ombudsmen, since L.A. used the plural), so it would be impossible for L.A. to talk to "the AP ombudsman."

We also have no policy that says, "We do not credit blogs," or anything close to it. In my own work, I've credited a number of blogs, and interviewed individual bloggers for attribution.

L.A. says she talked to people at AP, and tape recorded the people she spoke to. Let's have the folks' names, and let's hear the tape. Let's find out who the "senior editor" is (that isn't a job title used in the AP), and who the "ombudsmen" are (again, the AP has no ombudsman). If you get neither, draw your own conclusions about whether the lady's story is true.
3.27.2006 11:43pm
lucia (mail) (www):
If true, she's not making accreditation any easier...

Does her blog have comments? If so, it's easy to contact her and ask her real name. Even if she remains anonymous, they can cite the blog; they prefer not to.

I suspect it's as countertop says, though I'd say it differently. The AP don't attribute if they believe they can get away with it. They know Instapundit has a huge audience; if they don't attribute him, that will be discovered. They will then lose the respect of readers and possibly other journalists. If they think a blogger has a small audience, they won't attribute the source.
3.27.2006 11:44pm
anonymous coward:
So, Dexter, do you mean to suggest that Larisa Alexandrovna plagarized the AP? Intriguing!
3.28.2006 12:02am
Federal Dog:
Shameless pillaging of blog materials by mainstream media sources certainly puts the lie to contentions that bloggers are not, in a very real sense, journalists.

I can't say, however, that I ever credit AP's accounts until I see matters confirmed in reliable sources anyway.
3.28.2006 8:15am
Houston Lawyer:
Couldn't they at least give her a hat tip?

The MSM has been arrogant for a long time. Until recently, you needed a lot of resources to call them out for it. Even now, they will smear you on the front page and make a correction, if at all, at the bottom of the back page.
3.28.2006 10:33am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
I think a good deal may have to do with the rep. of the individual blogger. I'm sure Glenn or Eugene, who are regular contributors to the MSM, to say nothing of, say, Andrew Sullivan, are far more likely to get proper attribution then, say, me.

Still, a uniform policy of giving credit where credit is due, no matter the source, would be the right thing.

And M. Lederman: Do you really think the blog format is incompatible with a "fleshed out" story? I've certainly seen several, although the blog reader generally sees the fleshing out as it develops, over the course of days or weeks.

As well, Charles Iragui: Where can I learn a bit more about Russian naming conventions? It seems like every character in Russian novels has about five different names - which throws me for a loop for the first few chapters.

Kevin L. Connors, Editor
The Daily Brief
3.28.2006 1:15pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
3.28.2006 9:02pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Dexter Westbrook:

Yours is an interesting comment. I sent Alexandrovna a link to your comment and suggested that she might want to comment.

I note that the Raw Story post that Wintermute links in the comment immediately above this one makes no mention of an "ombudsman." That has a specific meaning, and you should know whether the AP has one of them. As for "senior editor," that's a bit more generic. But in the new Raw Story article, they clearly name whom they talked with, so their story doesn't appear to be entirely made up.

Also, though I don't think that Raw Story necessarily owes me a cite because my contribution was very minor (I spent perhaps 45 minutes looking at the AP site and writing my post), I note that the current Raw Story article mentions that PajamasMedia and Instapundit were credited by AP, which of course I discovered.

The question is not whether credit is always given for work used (it isn't and shouldn't be), but how extensive the uncredited borrowing is, and whether people deal with the problem decently when someone reasonably complains.
3.29.2006 2:07am