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Monday, March 21, 2011

Britain's Daily Mail Rips Off SF Weekly Cover Story

Posted By and on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 1:45 PM

SF Weekly's U visa story, for all your churnalism needs.
  • SF Weekly's U visa story, for all your churnalism needs.

Browsing our Google alerts this morning, we came across an eerily familiar story about U visas -- "The 'crime visa': How 18,000 illegal immigrants got legal status by being the victim of crime." Oh, wait: This was actually our cover article on U visas, shamelessly ripped off and plastered on the website of the wildly successful British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail.

This is an example of "churnalism" at its most depraved -- the story's byline reads only "Daily Mail Reporter," as if the anonymous hack couldn't bear to fess up to his or her lack of originality. The article proceeds to rephrase our sentences, lift our quotes verbatim, and even write snappy sidebars about the visa-seeking San Francisco-based immigrants -- Rosa Aguilar and Adolfo Lopez, you've gone international! -- profiled in our original story.

Check out our story versus theirs for yourself: There is absolutely no original reporting in the entire Daily Mail piece. Apparently the reporter thought he or she was absolved via a quick " reports" in the 18th paragraph. No link or anything. Wow, thanks.

  • Hmm....

"I think a lot of people are trying to figure out what responsible

attribution looks like online," says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar

at the Poynter Institute, a journalism ethics think tank. "Linking is

one of the simplest and oldest strategies. ... I think the reason you might

not link is you don't want to call attention to how close your version

is to the one you're linking to. It may be a sign that someone knows

that they're pirating the work."

Uh huh. This is isn't the first time the tabloid has been taken to task for cannibalizing another paper's story. Poynter's Jim Romenesko called the Mail out last month regarding one of its story's glaring similarities to a New York Times piece

regarding the danger of using electronic devices during airplane flights. Poynter's headline? "Someone call the Plagiarism

Police on the Daily Mail!" Hear, hear! 

But wait -- there's more! The blog Tabloid Watch pointed out the

obvious similarities between a Daily Mail story and a 2010 Los Angeles Times article about Dick

Van Dyke's appearance in a stage adaptation of Mary Poppins. At least Daily

Mail reporter Chris Johnson signed off on that one. Once again, the LA Times got mentioned -- buried in the 10th paragraph. Again, no link.   

It seems U visas are a topic that appealed to the paper's conservative,

anti-immigrant editorial stance; the Mail's editors have been called to answer in the past by the British Parliament's human rights committee about critical coverage of asylum seekers.

But it's one thing to like the doggy in the window, and another to abscond with it and walk it down the street like you own it. Yet Clark says the traditional courtesies of journalism

ethics have been mangled in the Wild West of the web: "One of the

way [the Wild West ethos] endures is inviting people to kidnap the work

of others without even the courtesy of a thank you or a link."

C'mon, guys: All we're asking for is some link love and heavy attribution

high up in the story. Then go ahead and take what you want. To borrow a British expression, what the Mail did -- it's just not cricket.

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