This isn’t journalism, it’s photocopying

This post started off as a rant against people using deliberately inaccurate headlines on blogs as a means of driving traffic from Twitter, Google News and the like, which I was going to call Headline writers kill kittens. Somewhere along the way, I became angrier about the vapidity of the sort of websites that I was talking about.

As with all good rants, it’s moderately unfocussed. Bear with me.

Got a news story on your blog? Is it about a reality TV show?

Does it contain no original journalism at all, instead relying purely on a vague rewrite of a story previously included in a tabloid newspaper/website that most likely relies on anonymous sources?

Are you worried that, amidst all the online chatter about said TV show, your website may get overlooked?

Don’t worry. Why not misrepresent your story in its headline to encourage people to click on it and visit your website?

Case 1: Cher Lloyd’s ‘collapse’

As pointed out by my friend @JasonArnopp on Monday, Digital Spy ran a story on Monday about X Factor contestant Cher Lloyd. Under the headline Cher ‘collapses after X Factor results’, the story continued:

Cher Lloyd was apparently close to collapse after Sunday night’s X Factor results show.

So – collapsed, or close to collapse? More importantly – actually, or apparently?

(The story itself has since disappeared from the Digital Spy website, but is for now at least still available in Google’s web cache).

As Jason pointed out, at least Digital Spy acknowledged the source of its story – the Daily Star. Which does at least ensure that the chances of its being true are minimal to say the least. Other blogs repeated the story without saying where they got it from. Did they crib it from the Star, or get it via DS? Without any acknowledgement, it’s hard to say.

Case in point 2: Christine Bleakley ‘to replace’ Dermot

Over on reality TV blog Unreality TV, October 11 saw a story cribbed (with acknowledgement) from the Mirror.

Christine Bleakley will reportedly replace Dermot O’Leary on the X Factor, if he leaves to present the American version of the show.

Even in the first sentence of the story there are several conditionals in there. If Dermot presents the US version of the X Factor, due to start in 2011, and if that means he will leave the UK show, Bleakley will reportedly be in line to replace him.

But when first published, the headline to the story was Christine Bleakley to replace Dermot O’Leary on the X Factor. It has since been retitled to more properly reflect the speculation by the anonymous sources that the Mirror cited, but you can deduce the original headline from the keywords in the blog post’s URL. Curiously, that blog post does not reference a story on the same blog from July, which still states that Bleakley will take over from O’Leary [my emphasis], this time lifted from the Daily Mail. Nor does it mention a post from September which suggested that she would be taking over the ITV2 magazine show The Xtra Factor — possibly because, as the show is now presented by Konnie Huq, it would show that the blog’s technique of cut-and-paste copying of stories from tabloids is not exactly reliable.

Let’s be clear, blogs like this are hardly the originators of such a technique. Tabloid newspapers have been lifting stories from each other (sometimes with attribution, sometimes without) for decades. It’s not just the tabloids, either — Tim Walker’s Mandrake column for the Daily Telegraph has, on numerous occasions, lifted either quotes or full stories from The Stage without attribution.

Likewise, the red tops are just as likely to misrepresent a mild story with a sensationalist headline. But just because it’s an ingrained problem doesn’t make it right.

If you want your blog to be an aggregator for news and gossip around reality TV shows, at least do it responsibly.

  • Don’t present other people’s news stories as if they’re yours.
  • Link to your source, adding your own commentary if you think it warrants it.
  • Don’t write sensationalist headlines that you think will generate great clicks when they appear on Twitter, or ‘make great SEO’, if they then misrepresent the story.

If you’re going to go down this road, I think Loulabelle44’s Strictly Come Blogging website does it right. Everything’s attributed, quoted and linked, and it’s clear when she is adding her own comments. There’s no intent to deceive.

But then, nor is her blog attempting to make money out of her passion for her favourite series. Maybe that’s the difference?

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.