We Gawk at Gawker Gawking at WaPo

gawkerIan Shapira had an article in WaPo entitled “Speaking to Generation Nexus.”

In her seminar, “Get Wise With Gen Ys: How to Effectively Sell to Each Generation in Today’s Workplace,” Loehr zeroes in on people born in the late 1970s or early 1980s, a demographic cohort so mystifying to its elders that she hands out cheat-sheet wallet cards enumerating traits that supposedly define this exotic generation.

This is, she explains, the first time in American history when four generations — people born from the 1930s all the way to the 1980s — are jammed together in the workplace, jostling for hegemony. What we’ve got here, as a movie character beloved by one of those older generations put it, is a failure to communicate.

Her class — executives from financial services, government contracting and tourism companies who have paid $25 apiece to get some help — looks stumped. As plates of scrambled eggs with bacon strips are passed around, the guru elaborates: “Reality TV . . . Gen X had MTV, Gen Y has reality TV. People say to me, ‘Why do they talk like that?’ Because they grew up on reality TV. Okay? It’s not good, it’s not bad. That’s what they grew up on. They think it’s okay to talk like that.”

Hamilton Nolan in Gawker excerpts the article.

Loehr is 44. She spent the entire decade of the 90s running hotel and safari operations in Kenya. Nevertheless, she has managed to master the subtle nuances of Generation Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y. She uses her knowledge to educate the olds about “people born in the late 1970s or early 1980s.” That’s us, and you, creative underclass! Marvel at how she seems to know you personally:

“People say to me, ‘Why do they talk like that?’ Because they grew up on reality TV. Okay? It’s not good, it’s not bad. That’s what they grew up on. They think it’s okay to talk like that.”

She has Richard Lawson nailed already!

“They saw 9/11,” she says. “Connection is vital, they want to be connected all the time. People say, ‘Why are they on Facebook all the time? Why are they texting?’ They really want balance, too. They saw their parents go crazy in Generation X. They are not having that lifestyle. They are going to do it their way. They’re going to go to yoga at 4, and the Red Sox game at 7, and do their work at midnight. It might be a good idea to let them go to yoga at 4!”

And how!

“If you can say you are ‘green,’ or politically correct or socially correct, whatever, that goes a long way with them. Nike, no way. Gen Y will not buy Nike — that big, ugly globalized company. This generation is very well-educated — both parents probably have MBAs.”

Shapira fires back in WaPo:

A few weeks ago, I scored what passes these days for one of journalism’s biggest coups, satisfying a holy writ for newspaper impact in the Internet age. Gawker, the snarky New York culture and media Web site, had just blogged about my story in that day’s Washington Post.

I confess to feeling a bit triumphant. My article was ripe fodder for the blogosphere’s thrash-and-bash attitude: a profile of a Washington-based “business coach,” Anne Loehr, who charges her early-Gen-X/Boomer clients anywhere from $500 to $2,500 to explain how the millennial generation (mostly people in their 20s and late teens) behaves in the workplace. Gawker’s story featured several quotations from the coach and a client, and neatly distilled Loehr’s biography — information entirely plucked from my piece. I was flattered.

But when I told my editor, he wrote back: They stole your story. Where’s your outrage, man?

[...] The bulk of the posting consists of Loehr’s own words, her thoughts on this generation’s affinity for reality television and its supposed aversion to Nike products. (Still no mention of The Post.) For those little nuggets, I drove a half-hour to Fairfax County’s Tower Club, and attended her two-hour “Get Wise with Gen Ys” session and recorded it.

Then the work got painstaking: It took about four hours to transcribe the session. (Are you playing mournful melodies on your violin yet?)

After the quotations from Loehr, the Gawker posting is a cut-and-paste of my own stuff, a description of why a financial adviser attended (so she can work better with clients who are “trust fund babies,” she said). Still no attribution to The Post.

The eighth and last paragraph discusses and links to Loehr’s “generational cheat sheet” on our Web site. Finally, beneath the last paragraph, the hyperlinked words “Washington Post” appear in red. Would the average visitor have clicked on the link to read the whole story? I probably wouldn’t have.

After all the reporting, it took me about a day to write the 1,500-word piece. How long did it take Gawker to rewrite and republish it, cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views?

Gabriel Snyder at Gawker fires back at Shapira:

So, it’s unsurprising that Shapira’s piece has been used by the newspaper navelgazers to kick around the idiotic notion that their work should enjoy some sort of special super-duper copyright protection. We’ll leave that discussion for others, except to note that a more stringent copyright regime would probably be a bigger threat to newsgathering than that of any blog. A less cumbersome way for newspapers to head off the threat of blogs would be to beat us to the punchline.

But if you’re going to fixate on blog links as the death knell of the industry, we have a lead for you: The threat is coming from inside the building. Nearly every day — 26 times in July alone — a Washington Post staffer not only sends us links to its expensive reporting but even pulls out the most interesting quotes so as to make it easier to pirate. I have strong feelings about revealing the identity of any Gawker tipster, but in this case it seems the public interest is simply too pressing and we must reveal this threat to journalism:

Maria Cereghino
Manager, Communications
Washington Post Media

Conor Friedersdorf at The Scene:

The Washington Post story, “Speaking to Generation Nexus,” is in fact an awful piece of journalism. As Gawker notes*, it exemplifies a kind of newspaper story where “hidebound newspaper editors are too afraid to let their reporters write,” and the closest it comes to a point of view is “a tangled mass of clauses that takes [Anne] Loehr and her consultant pablum at face value.” Reporter Ian Shapira might defend the piece by arguing that it isn’t his job to make a judgment about his subject and her worth as a consultant, only to report the facts about her and let the reader decide. That is the premise behind a lot of newspaper writing.

And in this case, it’s bullshit. A profile is an inherently subjective exercise. It forces the writer to make all sorts of judgments about his or her subject, picking and choosing which scenes to render, which quotes to include, which descriptions to offer, and what to leave out — the stuff my former professor Lawrence Weschler would call “the fiction of non-fiction.” Any pretense that there isn’t any editorial judgment being exercised is just that. But here’s how Mr. Shapira sums up his piece in a followup: “The story wasn’t Pulitzer material; it was just a reported look at one person capitalizing on angst in the workplace.” Is that really all it was?

Gawker understandably speculates that Mr. Shapira wanted to mock his subject but couldn’t. I’d put it this way: either the subject is mock-worthy for the absurd way she is “capitalizing on angst” or Mr. Shapira woefully misrepresented reality. Wouldn’t his piece be better if he made the most coherent case possible for whatever conclusion his reporting led him to draw? Even the subject would be better served that way — at least the reader could make an informed judgment about his prejudices and whether they are well-founded! Not coincidentally, Mr. Shapira’s followup piece, where he forthrightly expresses numerous opinions, is easily the best thing I’ve ever read by him. (Full disclosure: Mr. Shapira once interviewed me for an article. Though he seemed to be a very nice guy, I was underwhelmed and somewhat mystified by the end product.)

Christopher Orr at TNR

Andrew Sullivan

Jamie Malanowski:

But another is to prevent people from stealing it. There is a wonderful article in The Washington Post today by Ian Shapira, detailing how a feature he wrote for the Post was snatched by Gawker. Shapira details the hours he spent reporting and writing the article, although he does not discuss the months and years he invested in developing his talent, nor the months and years that his editors invested in learning their craft and nurturing people like Shapira. He does report that the writer from Gawker who ripped off the story spent about a half an hour doing it.

This is the sort of thing that must end, and it’s not too strong an idea to suggest that the way you end it is the same way you end (or try to end) armed robbery or Ponzi schemes or any other sort of theft: you outlaw it.

Rachel Sklar at Mediaite:

The blogosphere has done something weird to the media industry: Now, the imprimatur of having contributed something is not the original byline, but whether your piece was “picked up.” Pickup provides that extra stamp of relevance, that what you did is worthy of inclusion by the all-important aggregators — the outlets which determine the days need-to-know stories, so busy people with no time to read any of it will at least know what’s up. Yes, yes, congratulations on getting your little article published in a top national newspaper — but a Drudge/Romenesko/HuffPo/Gawker link? Awesome!

It’s not just about traffic, it’s about affirmation: You’re on to something. You’re relevant.

But while affirmation is nice, attribution is nicer. Which is why my reaction to that quote from Shapira was this:  “Eight paragraphs off one story? Not even credited up top? They’d nail HuffPo for that.”

There’s a fine line between being an aggregator — distilling salient information, enough both to inform and to pique, for the purposes of clicking through — and just, as Shapira says, proceeding to “cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views.”

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