ZDNet is morally bankrupt

It’s a dog eat dog world, people grabbing stories from other people, sometimes pictures. Sometimes there’s a legal angle, sometimes there isn’t. Journalists like to say that they hold themselves to higher standards then bloggers, and yet this isn’t always the case.

The blogosphere has had some basic fairness rules in place for many years. One is if you take an exclusive story from a blog, you link back. So you’d think that major blogs would follow that, even more so when run by major media companies…but you’d be wrong.

We broke the story this week about the Australian Prime Minister joining Twitter. When I say broke, we were the first news site OR blog to run the story. About 80-90 minutes after our post went up, ZDNet Australia ran the same story with identical talking points. Not out and out plagiarism, but the similarities were very strong. The next outlet to run with it was 2 hours later again. When I put the post up, I’d manually linked to the post on Twitter because I thought it might be of interest as well.

I don’t begrudge the fact that ZDNet lifted the story at all, or even basically copied the talking points with a slight re-write. But I do take great umbrage with the fact that they didn’t attribute it. I Twittered my disgust on Tuesday, and thought really nothing more about it until today, when I receive a tweet from ZDNet News Editor Renai LeMay asking for details. I sent him my concerns, and this is the response I got.

Firstly let me say that I completely understand your concerns. Thanks for your email, and I hope everything is well at the Inquisitr.

I respect what the Inquisitr is doing as an independent Australian media organisation, and what you are personally doing as a leading light of new media internationally and in this country.

The article you were referring to was written by Alex Serpo, one of our in-house journalists, and edited by myself.

Firstly, let me say that I think this email exchange illustrates the fact that there are different points of view on this sort of issue from different media organisations.

When a story breaks elsewhere, that ZDNet.com.au wants to have on its site, we attempt to find primary sources (eg, a press release, or calling people up for info), and write our own article.

We don’t usually refer to or use material from other media organisations as we have no way to verify whether their information is correct (and they may have left something out).

Given we are part of CBS, and our articles are re-published worldwide, for us to take any other approach would be inappropriate.

We don’t generally link back to whoever has broken a story first. I am aware that this is a standard technique in the blogosphere, but we don’t follow it here as per current editorial guidelines.

The bolding is mine, but it’s the key line. We also WERE the primary source.

And then he takes the cowards defense after all but fessing up to the fact they’d lifted the story. I’d note at this point that 2 hours after they posted, news.com.au in their article noted that they were unable to confirm the story with the Prime Ministers office or ANY OTHER PLACE; so ZDNet magically got a better source than Australia’s largest media organization? The story wasn’t on either the KevinPM site or the official PM site, there was no press release, nothing at the time (I did my homework…indeed, I’d sat on the story for nearly an hour trying to confirm it). The only thing confirming at the time was a link to the Twitter account from the KevinPM site. Also I’d note, the talking points they ran were nearly IDENTICAL to our post. I don’t believe in coincidences, at least not this many.

In this specific case, that story broke simultaneously in a number of different ways — on the Inquisitr, on Rudd’s own site, people messaging us to let us know, etc. With this in mind, we went back to primary sources (Rudd and Turnbull’s own pages, and our own kn) and wrote our own story.

Most of all I’m disappointed by LeMay; he was a great journalist at the Financial Review, but anything he learned in journalism school has been replaced by him doing his employers bidding. This idea that your don’t source stories in rubbish; mainstream media sites reference stories day in, day out, in both articles and blogs, and give me 2 hours and I could probably find thousands of examples in the mainstream media of them doing so; at the least saying where it came from without a link, with best practice with the link.

ZDNet, at least in Australia, is morally bankrupt. If what LeMay says is true of the whole organization, then the entire company is.