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Mainstream Media Crashed-and-Burned Watch: Hamilton Nolan, Ian Shapira, some nameless Economist writer, and Ross Douthat

Ian Shapira writes:

Ian Shapira -- How Gawker Ripped Off My Newspaper Story: The more I toggled between my editor's e-mail and the eight-paragraph Gawker item, the angrier I got, and the more disenchanted I became with the journalism business. I enjoy reading Gawker and the growing number of news sites like it -- the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast and others -- but lately they're making me even more nervous about my precarious career as a newspaper reporter who enjoys, at least for the time being, a salary, a 401(k) and health insurance. I started thinking about all the labor that went into producing my 1,500-word article. The story wasn't Pulitzer material; it was just a reported look at one person capitalizing on angst in the workplace. With all the pontificating about the future of newspapers both in the media and in Capitol Hill hearings, I began wondering if most readers know exactly what is required to assemble a feature story for a publication such as The Post. Journalism at a major newspaper is different from what's usually required in the wild and riffy world of the Internet. And that wild world is killing real reporting...

But this is not a disease of the internet, Ian. For example:

Ross Douthat in the New York Times, today:

Blue-State Blues: Consider Texas and California. In the Bush years, liberal polemicists turned the president’s home state — pious, lightly regulated, stingy with public services and mad for sprawl — into a symbol of everything that was barbaric about Republican America. Meanwhile, California, always liberalism’s favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

But flash forward to the current recession, and suddenly Texas looks like a model citizen.... Meanwhile, California... has become a fiscal disaster area. And it isn’t the only dark blue basket case. Eight states had unemployment over 11 percent in June; seven went for Barack Obama last November.... [T]he downturn has highlighted the weaknesses of liberal governance — the zeal for unsustainable social spending, the preference for regulation over job creation, the heavy reliance for tax revenue on the volatile incomes of the upper upper class...

The Economist, three weeks ago:

America's Future: California and Texas, the nation’s two biggest states, are the twin poles of the West, but very different ones. For most of the 20th century the home of Silicon Valley and Hollywood has been the brainier, sexier, trendier of the two: its suburbs and freeways, its fads and foibles, its marvellous miscegenation have spread around the world. Texas, once a part of the Confederacy, has trailed behind: its cliché has been a conservative Christian in cowboy boots, much like a certain recent president.

But twins can change places. Is that happening now?... California is in a funk.... Plenty of American states have budget crises; but California’s illustrate two more structural worries.... By contrast, Texas... has coped well with the recession, with an unemployment rate two points below the national average.... Texas also clearly offers a different model, based on small government.... [S]ome erstwhile weaknesses now seem strengths (flat, ugly countryside makes it easier for Dallas-Fort Worth to expand than mountain-and-sea-locked LA)...

Gawker's Hamilton Nolan gave you a link, Ian, in the very first paragraph, with an added explicit mention of the Post at the end--and some traffic and thus eyeballs for the Washington Post's web ads. I would classify Nolan as rude, however: instead of "Meet Anne Loehr..." linked to your article, it should have read "In the Washington Post Ian Shapira introduces us to Anne Loehr..." linked to your article. Ethics require links that inform people where you got your ideas and your facts rather than lifting them in light-fingered fashion. Manners require that you structure your piece so that even those who do not click through and do not read the notes learn where you got your facts and ideas from.

By contrast Ross Douthat of the New York Times didn't give the Economist either a link or an acknowledgement. My sense is that people who come out of the weblog world or out of academia are anxious to cite and link--they think it builds their credibility and also their intellectual community--while people who come out of the press are anxious not to cite or link but instead pretend that they did all the legwork themselves and now have the Olympian omniscient viewpoint--either because they are scared their editors will fire them if they figure out how much they borrow or their readers will go straight to the deeper sources if they give a hint of what those deeper sources are.

Marcy Wheeler has, I think, the smartest take on this:

Emptywheel » The Stealing Wars: What’s Good for Gawker Is Good for WaPo’s Slate: I think [Shapira] has got a point. He shows how Gawker took a story he worked eight hours on and--with 30 to 60 minutes of work--used much of his story for a post.... [T]he Gawker post in question practiced god-awful linking etiquette.... And it didn't add much.... Gawker did do what it does best--wrapping the appropriate layer of snark around the abursdities or the world otherwise presented as serious. But it did use a whole lot of Shapira's interview in the process....

[W]hat Shapira is complaining--rightly--about is that Gawker... did not use good etiquette according to the internet world's rules. Curiously, though... [h]e didn't acknowledge that the WaPo... does not... always credit those it steals stories from (not even after Nick Denton pointed out that even when newspapers lift Gawker's stories and credit them, they never give hot links).... But Shapira absolutely does not make the case when he glibly says Gawker is hurting the WaPo, when his evidence actually shows it is possible to make money online, but that for some reason WaPo can't monetize the links others give it:

Even if I owe Nolan for... traffic, are those extra eyeballs helping The Post.... [T]hose referring links... aren't doing much... to stop our potential slide.... Gawker and its ilk, with their relatively low overhead, might be depressing online ad revenue across the board.... The Post just completed its fourth round of buyouts since 2003... the newspaper division... continues losing money.....

There are a number of things that contribute.... Gawker treats things that should be treated with snark with snark, whereas WaPo... refuses to piss in the Village. WaPo has... levels... who--often as not--contribute nothing.... WaPo is apt to send three reporters out on a story that might merit one. WaPo wastes money producing videos no one finds funny.... WaPo has a nice big building....

But the most amusing part of Shapira's column is... "Gawker was the second-biggest referrer of visitors to my story online. (No. 1 was the "Today's Papers" feature on Slate, which is owned by The Post.)" Here's the original work Slate wrapped around its limited quote from Shapira's story:

Feel like getting mad this morning? Then head on over to the WP's Style page to once again see how there's never a shortage of people finding, um, creative ways to make money. And people gullible enough to hand over their hard-earned cash.

Totally fair use, good etiquette.... 756 words out of 1136 in that column derive from other newspapers: NYT, LAT, WSJ, and USA Today.... Daniel Politi... [did] just as Gawker's Hamilton Nolan did. And yet there Slate-owned-by-the-WaPo is, doing precisely what Shapira complains Gawker is doing, placing ads right next to content it appropriated from other reporters: A ginormous Economist ad and what appears to be an ad for an ABC station...

And, of course, there is another difference between Gawker's Hamilton Nolan and the New York Times's Ross Douthat. Hamilton Nolan's story is right. Ross Douthat's story is wrong.

Paul Krugman:

Texas is not the only red state - Paul Krugman Blog - There has been quite a lot of commentary on my colleague Ross Douthat’s use of a Texas-California comparison to claim that red states are doing better in the crisis than blue states. Some have pointed out that California, despite its liberal reputation, doesn’t have especially high taxes; others have pointed out that Texas, where almost a quarter of the population lacks health insurance, is hardly a model.

What I haven’t seen pointed out, however, is that Texas is not the only red state. Why not look at South Carolina, where taxes are almost as low as they are in Texas, but where the unemployment rate is 12.1%? Or Tennessee, which has some of the lowest taxes in the nation, and 11% unemployment?

Maybe a picture will help. Taxes as a percentage of income... current unemployment rate.... See the relationship? Neither do I.

Texas is not the only red state - Paul Krugman Blog -

Ezra Klein:

Should We Envy Texas?: Ross Douthat has a strange column today arguing that Texas -- yes, Texas -- represents the sort of "model" economy that Barack Obama promised but can't quite seem to achieve. "The president wants to govern America like a blue state," writes Douthat. "But for that to work, he’ll need the nation’s economy to start performing more like Texas." There are two problems with this column. The first is that it's wrong. The second is that it's misleading....

[T]he wrong. Red states are not, as Ross implies, obviously outperforming blue states.... The top performers... Washington, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, D.C., West Virginia, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado. Five states that went for Obama, six that went for McCain. Texas... is in the second quintile... with New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Utah, and Oregon. Six states that went for Obama. Four that went for McCain.... Texas's per-capita GDP has shrunk by $11 since 2007.... Massachusetts... [has] grown by $700. Compare that to Douthat's contention that Obama is "pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths."

But let's talk about Texas for a second. "The Lone Star kept growing well after the country had dipped into recession," writes Douthat. "Its unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are both well below the national average. It’s one of only six states that didn’t run budget deficits in 2009."... About 24 states have unemployment and foreclosure rates beneath the national average. Not all of them are governed by Republicans or voted for McCain. Texas's balanced budget is a more interesting phenomenon, however. Douthat doesn't say why Texas managed to keep its books so clean.... Compared with, well, most everyone else, Texas has a lot of uninsured people and a lot of people beneath the poverty line. Fully 26.6 percent of Texas's kids... don't have health-care coverage.... A state like California sees its social services spending shoot up in a recession, because the programs are relatively generous and more people need them during an economic downturn. A state like Texas also sees a rise, but less so, because the programs are less generous and cover fewer people.... [I]t does point to the difficulties of naming a state where 24 percent of the residents are uninsured and 29 percent of the children live in poverty as a "model" for the nation. Compare that with Massachusetts, which is seeing more per-capita GDP growth and far fewer residents either in poverty or without health insurance, though it does have a slightly higher unemployment rate...