By Paul Gillin | November 23, 2011 - 12:26 pm - Posted in Best/Worst, blogging, Journalism, Newspapers

Jim RomeneskoJim Romenesko tells his side of the story behind his messy and public breakup with Poynter Institute, and he couldn’t be more gracious. Actually, there’d be no point in scolding the rank-amateur behavior that prompted him to resign suddenly earlier this month over allegations of improper sourcing by his Poynter editor, Julie Moos. Visitors to Moos’ Nov. 10 commentary have done the talking for him.

Romenesko is the prolific blogger who has attracted a large following with his almost obsessively updated newsfeed about the latest goings-on in media. His style for years has been to post short summaries or excerpts and one or two links to the source. Most media outlets consider it an honor to get a link from Romenesko, who has more than 40,000 Twitter followers and a huge mind share among media professionals.

Poynter's Julie MoosHowever, Moos saw peril in the practice, and on Nov. 10 raised questions about Romenesko’s sourcing of third-party content, essentially accusing him of plagiarism. Using examples provided by a Columbia Journalism Review reporter, Moos demonstrated that Romenesko has republished rather lengthy passages without using quotation marks to cite  the source.

What Moos failed to do was consult others for their opinions or give Romenesko himself much more than a cursory heads-up that the post was going to appear. The reaction from readers – including several of the sources allegedly wronged by the sourcing practices – came down like a ton of bricks. As of this morning, Moos’ post had collected nearly 300 comments, most ranging from critical to hostile. Rather than taking umbrage at the Romenesko, most people said they were grateful for the service he provided and had no confusion whatsoever about where his information was coming from. And even if the sourcing wasn’t always rigorous, the outcome was: gushers of traffic to their websites. Which is a good thing.

Romenesko’s account on his new blog, JimRomenesko.com, fills in some of the background details. According to Romenesko, Moos’ blog post was preceded by months of negotiation over renewal of Romenesko’s contract, which expires on December 31. Two days before the post appeared, Moos expressed concern to Romenesko about his plans to sell ads on his new website, potentially cannibalizing Poynter’s business. Without explicitly accusing Moos of anything, Romenesko’s timeline portrays an increasingly panicked editor who is about to see her star columnist become a competitor. The sourcing accusations appear to be timed to cut off competition at the knees.

It’s unfortunate that this issue degraded into personal attacks, because the issues that Moos raised are legitimate. The old rules of attribution seem out of touch with the new age of copy-and-paste publishing. A decade ago, publishers sued each other over “deep links.” Today they beg for them. Erika Fry, the CJR  reporter who first raised the sourcing issue to Moos, published a calm and level-headed account of her concerns shortly after Romenesko quit. She was never out to get Romenesko, she says, but rather to understand how his own rules of sourcing work. Poynter could play a valuable role in facilitating a discussion over the new ethics of plagiarism. It’s unfortunate that one editor chose to use the issue for character assassination instead.

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