WSJ Fails to Credit Online Reporter Who Broke Story

The Wall Street Journal today published article by Brody Mullins on Michael Scanlon and his former fiance Emily Miller. It fails to credit investigative journalist Jason Leopold who broke the story in January.

I did a Lexis search and found that Jason's article was the first to report the Scanlon-Miller story. Jason is understandably miffed. He writes by e-mail:

Three months ago, I broke a big story in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. I reported that Abramoff's ex-partner Michael Scanlon was implicated in the scandal by his jilted lover and former fiancee, Emily Miller, who met Scanlon when the two worked as press aides for Congressman Tom DeLay. I spent four months fleshing out this story. I spoke to a dozen people in Washington who told me how this went down. In the end, I discovered that Miller spoke to the FBI after Scanlon broke off their engagement and started dating another woman. It was an important story. It had all the makings of a Hollywood thriller. My story was published on the Internet magazine, Raw Story. It received some play on the Net and in indpendent media circles. Some mainstream publication reporters acknowledged the good work in private emails to my editor, John Byrne. However, it was never picked up or republished by any of the traditional publications.

Today, the Wall Street Journal published a front-page "exclusive" that basically recycled my story from January without mentioning that it was first reported by me or that I broke the story wide open. I spoke to two Journal editors in New York. They acknowledged this morning that they read my story and assigned a reporter to follow it up. But they refuse to credit me for first reporting it.

I work tirelessly on reports like this. Often times my reports are not taken seriously by the very people who are supposed to champion the independent media because my work does not appear in so-called reputable publications such as the Journal. The Valerie Plame leak is a perfect example. This isn't a case of sour grapes. It's about giving credit where credit is due. Even if the Journal printed something as benign as "this story was first reported by a website" would have been sufficient.

I spent more than 10 years working for the mainstream media. Ironically, I spent two years as the bureau chief of the Journal's sister outfit, Dow Jones Newswires. I know what goes on behind the scenes and I know what the reporters think of the independent media. We're crap. Hopefully, this will give some pause to those who think I, and other independent journalists, aren't capable of scooping the sh*t out of the big media.

Jason asks you to read both articles and ends with, " Need I say more?"

This is an issue that lately seems to be occurring with greater frequency. Josh Marshall is angry. So is Larissa at Raw Story.

When blogs investigate and first report a news story, the MSM should credit them if any of the blog's reporting is used in the story. The MSM should not claim an "exclusive" if its author has read an earlier article on the same subject by a blogger. The same goes for analysis of an event. If an MSM reporter gets their understanding of a story from a blogger's analysis and repeats it, the blogger should be credited.

Bloggers routinely link to MSM articles that led them to write about an event or to write a follow-up. The MSM needs to do the same. Some papers are beginning to understand this. For example, earlier this week:

It's a start, but the Associated Press and Wall St. Journal and other publications need to follow suit.

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    Well, they are a pretty low class operation. Particularly, the editorial page.

    Charlie, their news coverage is top notch. I'm a subscriber and they have had excellent coverage of Guantanamo, prisoners, sentencing guidelines and the War in Iraq. Just skip the editorials.

    Thanks, I'll bear that in mind.

    Not to credit sources is to engage in plagiarism, a kind of theft. Alongside other recent charges of plagiarism by the mainstream media "journalists" in the employ of such major newspapers as the New York Times (Jayson Blair) and conservative bloggers like Ben Domenech), these Wall Street Journal reporters are similarly engaged in plagiarism when they read and base their own subsequent investigations on prior reports (whether or not they have been posted online) and fail to acknowledge them as sources in their later publications. That is simply bad journalism. Online sources require documentation and crediting in the products of research using them. Even first-year students in required college and university writing courses know that. All such students are taught at least the most rudimentary documentation conventions. Chief among them is to acknowledge, to credit, and to acknowledge sources used. See the Modern Language Association (the organization which has established MLA Style documentation format) and the American Psychological Association (the organization establishes the documentation format for journalism: APA Style); both formats are taught to introductory writing students in American colleges and universities. Engaging in intentional plagiarism (academic dishonesty) is still an offense punishable by suspension in most of these institutions' academic standards boards. Teaching professional standards aims to maintain professional ethics across the disciplines, including journalism. It is a slippery slope. The Wall Street Journal needs prominently to print and post online a correction and to give Jason Leopold credit where it is due, including the appropriate URLs to his prior articles (work products). Newspaper articles cite sources published on the internet all the time. The Wall Street Journal needs to investigate and to rectify appropriately its reporters' failure to credit their sources immediately.

    this is the second time in as many weeks (i think) that somebody ripped off raw story without acreditation, if i can misspell a word and still sound erudite. the walls treat journo is indeed the ben domenech of top-down corporate media.

    addendum: not the first time the wsj has copied from a blogger without credit, sez the editors weblog:
    the wall street journal has publicly recognized that rafat ali at paidcontent.org broke a story that the journal played off as their scoop. in the wee hours of september 20, paidcontent posted that viacom was in talks to acquire internet film distributer ifilm. the following day, the wall street journal printed the same story, not crediting rafat with the scoop. only after this was pointed out did wsj list the correction on their website. unfortunately, the correction is behind a paywall and can't be viewed by non-subscribers and probably won't be noticed by many people. perhaps the most disturbing part about this story is that this is the second time in two months that wsj has failed to credit paidcontent with breaking a story before rafat called them on it.

    The APA Style Guidelines for citation of "Electronic Media and URLs: Sources on the Internet" are accessible online here. Perhaps reporters for the Wall Street Journal need a refresher course.

    Recognizing the difference between acceptable conventions in writing scholarly articles, student research papers, and journalistic investigative reports, I refer people also to these Excerpts from Ethics Codes on Plagiarism, Compiled by the Society for Professional Journalists.

    I have some questions. 1. There are millions of blogs writing millions stories. How can the tradition media avoid plagarizing? 2. Should all Reporters be required to Google and Lexis their stories? 3. Could this reporter have researched and discovered this story on his own. Would that still mean he plagarized?

    Re: WSJ Fails to Credit Online Reporter Who Broke (none / 0) (#10)
    by killer on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 08:26:00 AM EST
    ED, It's not that MSM may do an identical story after emedia has "gone to press", but rather when they openly admit to pulling a story without credit or reference. Is it time for these websites to copyright their material? Yes, I know that's so moonie.

    Thanks (I can't believe I'm thanking a) Killer!

    Symbiote vs Parasite I think that the problem is that the Main Stream Media consider Bit Media: the Internet, and the Bloggers as Parasites whereas if the MSM want to continue to prosper they must encourage the symbiotic relationship. I hope that the WSJ and you can discuss this situation and that they will either identify independent sources for their story or print a correction giving you the proper credit and perhaps even discussing their journistic policies. In the longer run the MSM and the DM will have to recognize that each of them may have a place in the news spectrum, probably with the MSM clearly presentation of a careful selection of material with a general reputation of checking, etc. were as the DM provides more immediate reporting, initial fact checking, etc. The tipping point will occur if there is a general procedure for sharing credit income and general respect rather than an "I win - You loose" interaction. /

    Re: WSJ Fails to Credit Online Reporter Who Broke (none / 0) (#13)
    by ding7777 on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 02:27:52 PM EST
    I remember reading this story a couple of months ago and thinking it was probably sleaze since no one else picked it up. Kudos to Jason for being 1st, but the WSJ did do a broader write up.

    i read both of them, and i don't think you can really compare the two. i learned a lot more from the wsj story than jason's story. if he had the whole deal, why didn't he publish that hilarious photo in the save the date card? that was good stuff.

    Re: WSJ Fails to Credit Online Reporter Who Broke (none / 0) (#15)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 01, 2006 at 07:47:09 PM EST
    i read both of them, and i don't think you can really compare the two. i learned a lot more from the wsj story than jason's story.
    It is clear that they used information from Leopold's story. What does it take away from the WSJ to mention Leopold? Nothing, and it spreads good will. This is not a completion. The MSM has the problem of super competitive stars who do nasty things to get the byline, including lifting the scoopers original lead and claiming it to be their own. Judy Miller comes to mind. Clearly in this instance the WSJ writers have egg on their face and have gained nothing for it.