The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor
The not-much-coveted award
The debate about old-versus-new media can get a bit heavy. Meet the bloggers who are getting their own back, and having a laugh.
"But there isn't any rule against copying stuff off a website, is there?"
So pleaded The Daily Mail when caught red-handed back in 2002, having run a feature called Blue Peter Saints & Sinners. The editorial process at the Mail turned out to be: a visit to nostalgia site TV Cream; a use of the "cut" and "paste" features found in web browsers and desktop publishers; then hiding when they got found out.
With intellectual property such a hot issue, and with a new army of bloggers chomping at the bit to tear a strip off the "mainstream media", you might have thought that journalists would be a lot more careful about playing nice with the web.
Weblog Watch is the BBC News Magazine's weekly review of blogs
But those pesky column inches still need to be filled. And Google's sitting there, as are all those blogs, and cutting and pasting is just as easy as it always was.
The other thing that hasn't changed is where the power lies. If a blogger steals from a newspaper, a legal threat will probably shut them up, since big-time publishers generally have deeper pockets than unpaid commentators.
So what's a plagiarised blogger to do?
Named and shamed
Happily, a sense of humour is a lot cheaper than a crack team of legal hawks.
And so it's with a mischievous grin that Guido Fawkes, Recess Monkey and Tim Worstall have announced the inaugural and far from prestigious Press Plagiarist Of The Year Award.
The Sun, The Sunday Times and The Guardian are among those in the dock, the teasing is relentless, and the name-and-shame approach might be just the ticket.
The site hosting the award is widely read both in Westminster and in Fleet Street, and no journalist wants to see their colleagues sniggering at them, forwarding e-mails about how they've got caught red-handed. And no-one wants to be the "insider" who's reporting what the rest of the world knew yesterday.
The award is decided by eliminating nominations ("in the manner of the Big Brother and Tory Leader reality shows"), and the contenders are now down to three.
And the field is dominated by the Daily Mail, and its sister paper. The Mail On Sunday surprised the most cynical of hacks a couple of months ago with the brazenness of its lift. Many of the other nominees have lifted a gag or bon mot here and there; the MoS had enough chutzpah to put aside two pages for a whole series of articles lifted from The Policeman's Blog, which describes itself as:
"A Journey into the mad, mad world of the British underclass and the Public sector, where nothing is too insane for it to be written down and copied in triplicate."
The anonymous copper who writes it suddenly found that his words had been posted through millions of letterboxes, with Associated Newspapers Ltd neither asking for permission, nor releasing anything from their big pile of money.
The real ignominy for the paper came when the blogger shunned any suggestion that he should be grateful for the exposure:
"After 5.00pm on a Friday and before 9.00 am on a Monday only the very best are actually on duty and they're all funnier and more industrious than me: this blog is about them and I don't want it to be about some copper who thinks he can write."
This is one of the strengths of the blogosphere: playing a different game to professional writers, with a different set of aspirations.
The Press Plagiarist Of The Year Award, likewise, is not out to make any friends. With so much of the blogosphere devoted to howling at mainstream media, the award could easily have come over as self-important, worthy and whiny.
But by taking the mickey out of bloggers (weblog research is referred to as "
Googling investigative reporting") and itself (in the spirit of transparent corruption, nominees can have themselves removed by paying in the form of the fancy wine Chateau Margaux), it's actually a spot of much-needed fun in the often-tiresome war between old and new media.
And if you want to choose between the stolen stories of dead dogs, political gossip and "eyewitness accounts", the nominations are still open. Vote often!
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