November 11, 2011

In defense of Romenesko


It seemed a big revelation: yesterday a Poynter Institute veteran named Julie Moos (“Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications”) accused pioneering media blogger Jim Romenesko of “a pattern of incomplete attribution” during his 12-year tenure as the country’s best known aggregator of media news and gossip. Making the charge particularly dramatic (and somewhat weird), Moos made the claim on Romenesko’s eponymous blog, which has been hosted by Poynter since late 1999 and where Moos is now a frequent contributor.

But what’s the evidence? An editor at Columbia Journalism Review—presumably working on a story, though this wasn’t said—emailed Moos to point out examples of “incomplete attribution.” Too many  posts, in Moos’ words, “included the original author’s verbatim language without containing his or her words in quotation marks, as they should have.”

What’s one to make of the charge? According to Time magazine television critic James Poniewozik, it’s “a nothingburger.” Looking at the evidence, Choire Sicha at The Awl says “I don’t particularly care.”

And summing up the pettiness of the accusation, Hamilton Nolan at Gawker wrote:

Here is what Romenesko stands charged with: nothing. That is, anyone who reads Romenesko on a regular basis will find themselves saying “Really, that? That’s supposed to be controversial?” You see, Romenesko—who scrupulously attributes each and every story to which he links—sometimes quotes material from said stories on his blog, to give readers an idea of what is in the stories, so they can decide if they want to click through. Everyone smart enough to want to read Romenesko in the first place understands this perfectly well! But since he doesn’t always spell out the already well-understood fact that he is quoting text from the article by using quote marks, Poynter is now floating the idea that he has somehow plagiarized that material. Which always appears under a big, bold, link to the source material.

Romenesko has now quit Poynter. In an announcement posted late Thursday, Moos stupidly summarized the reason for his departure as “a story about questionable attribution in Jim’s posts,” which was of course her story—and really only an outline of a CJR story yet to be written. Perhaps it’s just a question of journalistic ethics. But as Felix Salmon wrote yesterday, “If your guidelines go against what Jim is doing, then there might well be something wrong with your guidelines.”


Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.