The Cutline

Case involving blogger, lawyer-turned-stripper and Gawker not as sexy as it sounds

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

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(MSNBC)

Bob Sullivan, a best-selling author and blogger for MSNBC.com, wrote a post last week about a lawyer-turned-stripper who apparently began dancing after being laid off from her law firm. The post, which was picked up by outlets including the Daily Mail and Gawker, was part of a series on "people taking unusual or dreadful jobs to make ends meet."

But Sullivan didn't like seeing his work picked up, or--as he complained in an email to Jim Romenesko--"copied, we'll say, extensively."

"It's all the worse because the story was 100% anonymous to protect the woman from future repercussions," he continued. "In my case, [the Daily Mail] simply added a photo of a random stripper, which I thought was particularly tasteless."

Gawker "did much the same, albeit in fewer words, but gave me basically no credit at all," Sullivan wrote. (Though it would seem that using a stock photo--as the Daily Mail and Gawker both did--would actually be a more effective way to protect "the woman from future repercussions" than MSNBC's side profile shot.)

"I know this is becoming common practice, but I sure hope it never becomes accepted practice," he added. "Copying a story where there can be no independent verification of information seems like the road to perdition to me. I think this is an incredibly important issue. Where will we be when all the original writers get no credit (and payment) for their work?"

Sullivan sent an email to Gawker editor-in-chief Remy Stern complaining about the lack of attribution, and included links to examples of how MSNBC credits Gawker in its blog posts:

We all know in the brave new world, some rules are being broken. But there is an obvious difference between copying something so it looks like your own work, with the least possible credit given to the original, and writing something derivative that gives an obvious hat tip to its creator. It's obvious to everyone who looks what you've chosen to do here.

I find this particularly egregious—and perilous—in a story for which there can't be even a shred of independent confirmation. The source is entirely anonymous. I am glad you completely trust my work to republish it, but if this is your way, there will certainly come a time when you copy something that is completely fabricated. It's a good thing Jayson Blair isn't writing for the NY Times in this brave new world.

Would it hurt anything to give proper credit to original creators? Would a prominent "a story that first appeared in msnbc.com" line hurt your traffic?

Sullivan told Romenesko that Gawker never responded to him, but it appears his plea worked--the Gawker post ("Lawyer Strips to Survive, Maintains Positive Attitude") now includes prominent credit in the second paragraph.

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