Too Much Excerpting: A Two-Way Street

I like Marcy’s thoughts about Ian Shapira’s Gawker-stole-my-stuff piece. Look at Shapira’s bottom-line graf:

I still want a fluid blogosphere, but one where aggregators — newspapers included — are more transparent about whom they’re heavily excerpting. They should mention the original source immediately. And if bloggers want to excerpt at length, a fee would be the nice, ethical gesture. 

Marcy makes the point that newspapers, and the Post in particular, should reciprocate by being open about where its reporters often get their stuff. Preach! There’s an unhealthy vestige of newspaper culture that acknowledging that another news outlet "beat" them to a story is only done in exceptional cases. Everyone knows, for instance, that Risen and Lichtblau broke the warrantless surveillance story, so you cite them. But internet availability means that everyone can see who got what first, and so it looks petty not to acknowledge someone else’s reporting. I’d really have liked it if people had at least referenced the fact that, say, I told people a month ago what the Obama interrogation task force would recommend. Bloggers did. Not a single newspaper who followed up gave me so much as a hat tip. Weak. This isn’t a zero-sum reporting environment. Every reporter is also an aggregator, since none of us re-report the corpus of human information every time we write. It’s all another word for context.

One other thing. I’d like to see some pressure put on the idea of how much excerpting is too much. Sometimes you can’t really give the flavor of even a specific point without a four or five-graf excerpt. Too much? Is it a proportion between simple excerpt/non-excerpted text? Or is it a proportion between the weight given to the excerpt by the post itself? And what about paraphrase? Is it not an excerpt if I rephrase what the original story said? This post has a ton of paraphrase, for instance, of Roger Cohen’s NYTM piece on Iran, but very little actual excerpt. What’s the ruling here?

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman