Blogschool: A little content etiquette, please

I was influenced at an early age. I take full responsibility for my little obsession here, but you need to know my opinion was set at about the age of 10 by my 5th grade teacher Sue Smith. She taught all of us the value of respect, of the pride of ownership, and how to properly document the work of others in a report.

In the early 80’s I had the opportunity to show how much I had learned when I scratched out a finals essay to a humanities professor. She was ticked that so many people had plagiarized the final paper and wanted the equivalent of “I will not copy other people’s work” scribbled 100 times. I knocked out a few paragraphs of how she was part of the problem instead of the solution since she failed to handle these students according to written policy. I still got an “A.”

Even in the wild, wild west of blogging, content ownership, and respect for that ownership, matters to me. There are several levels to acknowledge. We talked about the “hat tip” earlier. When a blogger recognizes that someone else saw it first, they say so. It doesn’t mean that a blogger who doesn’t hat tip is a creep – it may mean they don’t read other blogs much. It’s generally a nice thing to do, though.

Next there are the two bloggers that write about the same thing at about the same time. We work from mostly the same sources – tv, the internet, the local news. Yes, of course, there are two or three people who troll (definition: frequent sites to the point of obsession) looking for content or links to post, but they aren’t much trouble and usually don’t last very long. This is very different from a blogger posting unique information only to have another news outlet steal the scoop. The big guys pick up scoops a lot. I’ve been told they think it’s their right to get the information out to their readers. Fine, but they need to cite the original source.

At the top of the list of content offenders are those that have an idea, use a search engine to say basically what they were thinking, and then lift the content, even pictures, without any source acknowledgment at all. When the work looks like it’s their own, that’s plagiarism. One of the MyCommunityNOW sites had problems here. Most bloggers run from this kind of thing, by the way.

What’s open for debate is printing to your own blog the full content of another writer’s work. Attribution is usually there, sometimes there’s even a link, but the need to move to the original site for the full story is completely removed because every word is right before you.

Here’s where Charlie Sykes does it on 620WTMJ’s site. Here Wisconsin State Senator Mary Lazich is guilty. Her aide Kevin Fischer’s example gives attribution but no link.

Another Franklin blogger Janet Evans is not immune, either. She lifts an entire article from the Rutland Herald and follows in small print with, “Fair Use Policy.” The link actually proves the content is out of line when you answer the four questions provided. Another test would be the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

It’s not only small-time bloggers with the problem of sticky cut and paste keys. The Lazich piece from above is sourced as MSN Money. A good chunk of that content may be from Standford University’s Department of Public Safety. The MSN version is quoted in hundreds of locations on the internet, but other unique phrases from Standford are found nowhere else. Neither MSN nor Standford returned my e-mails from a couple of weeks ago about the issue.

(It’s easy to search content. Most major search engines let you put phrases inside quotation marks to find the source easily. For an example I used – “Empty your mailbox quickly, lock it or get a P.O. box” – to discover the two examples above.)

No big deal? Not so fast. All of the blog examples above are on sites where a subsidiary of Journal Communications, Inc. is making money from the advertising that flashes on those pages. When a blogger lifts a whole article, a reader no longer has to visit the original site. It’s a transfer of wealth through the transfer of hits.

Some bloggers think they can push the reprinting of content if their site has no revenue and they gather from a site without revenue. See the discussion that started in an earlier post. I disagree with that concept.

For the record, there are lots of bloggers out there that wouldn’t think of doing such a thing. In the couple of years that I’ve read Owen Robinson at Boots and Sabers I’ve seen it once. At that he apologized before doing so but explained the message would be lost without the whole thing. His usual practice, and one I encourage all bloggers to use, is to cut and paste a couple of paragraphs into “block quote” (this is usually an indention with a vertical line or an area of different shading – I just found it on my new software) followed by a link to the rest of the content. A really nice blogger will set the link with text like I did in this paragraph. Search engines really like that and it’s good for the author.

If the link to the content you want to provide isn’t stable, then you have two choices: Look for a different source or work up a rewritten piece that even Mrs. Smith would approve.

Go forth and sully your content no more. Class dismissed.


  1. You may not be aware, but there is also a small feud going on between bloggers, usually between the left and the right, but sometimes it’s just a personal spat. This feud appears to be stemming from rankings, especially the BNN poll.

    BNN has a system that involves various factors such as number of posts, number of comments, number of times people link to their postings, etc.

    Many bloggers don’t want to give credit to other “enemy” bloggers so they intentionally don’t provide the link.

    If you look, many conservative sites don’t list any liberal or lefty sites on their blogrolls. These include Owen’s site, Real Debate, Texas Hold’em, Freedom Eden, and many others.

    The exceptions are ones like Badger Blogger, and of course, yours. This actually makes people more respectful of you when they don’t feel like they’re getting shut out.

    There are some on the left that have taken conservatives off of theirs, but not nearly as many are as childish about it.

  2. Oh, my. Life is much too short to manage a strategy about blogging of all things! I love a good argument. Post, comment and link away.

    I do think one thing I have on “real” bloggers is a long list of people that really don’t read blogs. Many of them never get to the comment sections.

  3. Eh, life’s too short for blog wars. I link to some conservative blogs, but I tend to be pretty picky about the ones I choose to link to, like yours for example. I actually enjoy reading conservative blogs that contain rational, well thought out points of view that differ from my own.

  4. Now, now Cindy…

    You know you’re supposed to be joining me and other commentators on FranklinNOW in a very red, dark, evil place because of this issue with a former NOW blogger!

    Tisk, tisk to remind us all of this.

  5. Cindy,

    I have a topic for your next lesson-bloggers that quote you without a link or an acknowledgement.

    Here is an example.