You double-cross once – where’s it all end? An interesting ethical question.

Lots of talk recently about the ethics of blockquotes and linkbacks and all of that. First you had the AP being silly. Then, on Sunday, came the much-discussed Ian Shapira article in the Washington Post. Today Maury applies that to baseball, talking about the role of “aggregators” such as Baseball Think Factory, MLB Trade Rumors, MetsBlog and the like. Upshot: a lot of people are uncomfortable with how much use of primary material others are making.

While those articles don’t deal with blog like this one directly — they’re really aimed more at spaces that put bunches of links together — I think it’s worthy to examine what common blogs do and to think about what’s kosher and what’s not when it comes to linking and blockquoting and what have you. This is not a legal fair use thing. That matters, of course — the law is certainly the baseline — but I’m not interested in talking about that right now. I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell, Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics.

To the extent I have a blog philosophy, it’s that a blog should try to add independent value to everything he or she writes. Simply regurgitating a news article and extreme blockquoting is both useless and, well, wrong. You have to add something to it, be it insight, analysis, commentary or humor. For example, let’s say that aliens invaded planet Earth on July 13th, and AP came out with a story headlined “Bud Selig cancels All-Star Game due to alien invasion.” If you’re a blog and you do any of the following, I think you’re cool:

  • Provide insight: write a post that expands on the wire report, explaining, via your own reporting or the weaving together of lots of other sources, what’s going on in greater detail. Say you’re in St. Louis, and you know all about the discussions of other options that were had prior to the cancellation (e.g. spraying the ballpark with alien spray; moving the game off-planet);
  • Provide analysis: write a post in which you run down all of the ballplayers who may not get their All-Star bonuses as a result of the cancellation, and how that affects team payrolls or, say, how this particular alien invasion is far more disruptive to the season than the less-successful Roswell invasion was. Oh don’t even try to deny it;
  • Provide commentary: write a post in which you lambaste Bud Selig for not anticipating the alien invasion and having a contingency plan for what any moron could have seen to have been an inevitable happening;
  • Provide humor: Write a post about how Jagul Gluket, despite coming from an invading alien fleet, had more of a right to be on the All-Star team than Jayson Werth.
  • If, on the other hand, you simply write a post that links the AP, says “that alien invasion is cancelling the All-Star game,” quotes lots of text and ends with you simply sayng the equivalent of “hmm, interesting” or something similarly cursory, that’s kind of a problem. If you don’t have any sort of original commentary about it, but you still want your readers to read it — something which represents “web-logging” in its original and perhaps most pure form — do it link-o-rama style and just give a link that encourages click-through (“Plaschke thinks the alien All-Star thing is all Manny’s fault; check it out“). Olney does that every day, and there’s a lot of value it simply because you’re turning on people to the story who wouldn’t have otherwise read.

    The idea is a simple one: either add independent value, strongly encourage click-throughs to the original source, or forget it. Ultimately, if you can’t point to a blog post and identify what it’s doing differently than the news story, then there is probably something wrong with the blog post.

    No, I can’t say I always abide by this perfectly, but that’s certainly what we as blog should be shooting for.

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    Comments

    1. The Rabbit said...

      Makes perfect sense to me.
      BTW…My research confirms that Roswell was successful.  Roswell was merely the decoy site. How else could you explain 8 years of Bush/Cheyney, Bud Selig’s position, and Boston’s Ziti Killer whose defense was that the pod people at a major Boston company was controlling his mind and caused him to murder?  (No, I am not making this up.)

    2. Shaun P. said...

      Craig, as a fellow shyster, I think you’ve got it right on the ethics side.

      What blog does the opposite, though, and actually gets any traffic for it?  A blog that linked to, but excepted or blockquoted an entire article, or the vast majority of it, post after post, would be boring.  Who would read it?  And if there’s little or no traffic, then there’s little or no ad money going there either (see http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/08/how-useful-is-advertising.php).

      So while it may be a scummy, unethical thing to do, putting my shyster hat back on, where’s the actionable harm to the original writer?  I’m not sure I see it.  And, as Ezra Klein points out (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/08/whos_to_blame_for_newspaper_re.html) I’m pretty sure even if everyone behaved perfectly ethically as you describe it, newspaper ad revenue is not going to magically start to rise.

    3. Jake said...

      aggregator blogs annoy me.  then again, *links* annoy me because a lot of the time I like to just read linearly.  Especially when I’m reading on a mobile phone on a train ride with shaky signal… the last thing I want to do is attempt another GET operation.

    4. Craig Calcaterra said...

      THANK YOU PATRICK!

      Nearly six friggin’ hours until someone picked up on my not one, but TWO Miller’s Crossing references.

      I thought about spelling it “eticks” to tip more people off, but I knew that wasn’t necessary.

      Patrick wins the internets!

    5. Patrick said...

      Thank you, thank you. My only issue was figuring out which quote to use.

      Runner-up: When facing a blogging-related ethical dilemma, just do one thing: Look in your heart.

    6. Shawn said...

      Just a note that back in prehistoric times, blogs were merely collections of links.  Say I was interested in Persian rugs, and wanted to spread the word of my hobby.  I would start a blog, and on it I would put links to websites about Persian rugs, link to articles about Persian rugs, and the like.

      People who do blog entries that are just quotes of other people’s articles are simply lazy, as are people whose newspaper articles are the same.

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