What has already been a weird few weeks for me took another turn Monday night, when Deadspin ran a story on the IFL’s suspension of Kurtiss Riggs. Deadspin – a popular, influential and at times not safe for work blog, for the unfamiliar, has been keeping tabs of (read: making fun of) the IFL ever since the Allen Wranglers signed Terrell Owens, and Monday they were passing on the latest.
Of course, the latest was a story that I wrote and reported for the Argus Leader on Friday afternoon and in Saturday’s editions. The Deadspin post was accurate, but nearly all of the information taken from it, including the quotes from Storm owner Todd Tryon and attorney Scott Abdallah, were unattributed, save for one Tryon quote which was taken from my story but credited to KELO.
When I read it, it didn’t quite dawn on me that my work had been used but not credited. I just figured Deadspin had chosen to link to the KELO story instead of mine, which they would of course have the right to do. But then I read it again and realized the quotes had been mine, and, in a bit of pithy passive aggressiveness, I posted a link to the Deadspin story on twitter with the comment: ‘Gee, these quotes look familiar.’
I was slightly annoyed, but willing to leave it at that. Yes, some people would’ve sent Deadspin a snippy email demanding credit or whatever, and it would’ve been their right to do so, but I’m not that guy. Self-promotion and narcissism are two of my least favorite qualities.
But a few hours later a guy named Abe Sauer emailed me, saying he’d seen my tweet and asking if indeed Deadspin had indeed taken information from my story without sourcing it. Basically the whole thing came from my story, I told Sauer, and he wrote a post on his own blog about it. He was maybe a little more accusatory than I would’ve been, but the guy was sticking up for my work – pointing out that Deadspin has roasted other writers for similar crimes – and I appreciated that.
A while later still, a guy named Jason Linkins from the Huffington Post emailed me looking to confirm Sauer’s blog post. I confirmed that Abe had quoted me correctly and that the Deadspin piece was taken entirely from my story.
I told both Sauer and Linkins that I wasn’t really that upset, I’m not the kind of guy who just wants to get his name mentioned on a popular sports blog. I said mostly I was disappointed for my employer, the Argus Leader, because we had an exclusive story and the credit was given to one of our competitors in the media. That was disappointing on a professional level.
Shortly after I answered Linkins’ email, I went to bed. I slept soundly. I wasn’t too worried about any of this. I figured there was a chance something would appear on the Huffington Post (which, again, for the uninitiated, is essentially an online newspaper – hugely popular, with a staff of over 200, named the most powerful blog in the world by the UK newspaper The Observer).
This was what was posted.
Tuesday morning I heard my phone beep its email alert, and when I checked it I saw I had an email from Tommy Craggs asking me to call him ASAP.
Craggs is the editor in chief of Deadspin; prior to that he was one of their most prolific (and best) writers.
I’m an admirer of Craggs’ work, but also aware that he can be a cantankerous and confrontational fellow. I was reasonably sure he just wanted to smooth over what had happened, but at least part of me wondered if he was going to yell at me.
I called him, he didn’t answer, I left a message, he called back.
The first words out of his mouth were that he was very sorry my story was not properly attributed. I thanked him for the apology, and then Craggs added a few things suggesting that, while he regretted what happened, he felt it unfair that the “P” word was getting thrown around. The Deadspin post had been authored by Dan Gartland, who Craggs told me is a 20-year-old intern.
“Now I’ve got this poor kid thinking he’s going to have the dirtiest word in journalism attached to his name,” Craggs told me.
I told Tommy that the apology was good enough for me, and that I didn’t think the whole thing was a big deal, that accusing the kid of full-on plagiarism was probably going a little far. Plagiarism – at least my definition of plagiarism – is a willful act of journalistic malice. I doubt that’s what Gartland was doing, because he certainly would’ve been smart enough to at least change up the wording a little bit if he meant to steal from me. Right? He said my story had been linked, but an editor wanted to move the link higher, so the first link was removed, and they simply forgot to reinsert it later. This seems not only plausible, but likely, given that Gartland borrowed from my story verbatim. You only do that if you plan on giving credit.
But who am I to say Abe Sauer is wrong to point it out? Some writers/reporters are more sensitive than others. I was annoyed by Deadspin’s mistake, but certainly not about to DO something about it. Obviously others would have. Well, did, I suppose. That’s their prerogative.
What I learned from Sauer and Linkins’ reaction (and Craggs’) is that borrowing work from other sources really isn’t something that should be done flippantly. That may seem like a basic journalism 101 kind of thing, but in some form or another, borrowing, repackaging, re-reporting, whatever you want to call it, happens all the time. I’ve seen other newspapers use quotes for stories that were taken from my stories before. Some papers would say, “So and so told the Argus Leader”, while other papers would simply present the quote as if they acquired it themselves. I never made an issue of it. If a guy said it a guy said it, regardless of whom he told.
What I also learned is that Sauer and Craggs have something of a history, and the entire hullabaloo led to this fiery diatribe from Craggs Tuesday afternoon, which probably qualifies as the longest and most colorful correction in journalism history.
I don’t want to take sides. Sauer was respectful to me, and like I said, he seemed merely to be attempting to defend my work. If he was more offended by Deadspin’s actions than I was that’s his right. I didn’t feel like he or Linkins were baiting me at all. They asked questions, I answered them.
That said, Craggs apologized to me over the phone, which he certainly didn’t need to do. Deadspin ran a correction. Gartland admitted his mistake to the HuffPo and said he was sorry. Good enough for me. Sorry if that offends any of the journalism guardians out there.
I guess my point in all of this is that while all these guys seem to be mad at each other, I’m not really mad at any of them.
Back to work, I guess.