Jim Romenesko’s messy departure from Poynter sparked a flood of reactions from mainstream media and bloggers. A handful of writers agreed with Poynter Online Director Julie Moos that Romenesko had used “questionable attribution” in some of his posts. But many defended Romenesko’s practices, and several criticized Moos’ handling of the situation.
The Columbia Journalism Review – which initially raised the attribution question in an email to Moos for an upcoming story – called Romensko’s attribution practices “sloppy.” CJR’s Justin Peters wrote:
It is odd to criticize a journalism ethics institute for caring too much about journalism ethics, and it is disingenuous to say that there was no error here out of a historical respect and affinity for Jim Romenesko (and the traffic he commands) and an uncertainty about whether aggregators should be subject to the same rules as other journalists.
Media critic Eric Deggans at the Poynter-owned St. Petersburg Times wrote, “Somebody has to start drawing lines here. And I don’t blame Poynter for saying they want to be as specific as possible about what their writers write and what their writers quote.”
But those views were in the minority. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted that the attribution concerns are a “non-issue”; David Carr at The New York Times said Moos’ post explaining the situation “seemed like an answer in search of a problem.” Writing in the Awl, Choire Sicha said, “Romenesko’s entire practice was about giving credit, in ways that virtually no other blog has been.” Sicha said he knows no writers who’ve complained about Romenesko misappropriating their work.
“Jim Romenesko didn’t plagiarize and my friends at the Poynter Institute were wrong to suggest that he did,” wrote Steve Buttry, the director of community engagement and social media at Journal Register Co. “It’s a punctuation offense, not a serious breach of journalism ethics.”
Some observers drew a distinction between traditional journalism and aggregation, saying that Poynter inappropriately applied the ethics of the former to a practitioner of the latter. Reuters blogger Felix Salmon wrote:
Moos is using the standards of original journalism, here, to judge a blogger who was never about original journalism. Copy-and-pasting other people’s stories is what Romenesko did, at high volume, and with astonishing speed and reliability, for many years. And the media community, including Poynter, loved him for it.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post explained part of the back-story of the events leading to the break-up. Erik Wemple noted that CJR’s Erika Fry first noticed the attribution issue when she was researching an upcoming story. When Fry emailed Moos a list of questions, Moos chose to go public on Poynter.org. Moos credited Fry for the discovery, but it preempted Fry’s story.
“I’m not sure exactly how I feel,” Fry told the Post. “I mean, I still plan to write something and it’s a broader story, so in some ways I kind of wish I had written my story first.”
The Post also reported on an email exchange with Romenesko in which he explained his decision to resign from Poynter yesterday, seven weeks before he was planning to “semi-retire” and start a new site, JimRomenesko.com. (The plan was for Romenesko to become a part-time Poynter employee and post “casually” to his blog.) Romenesko told the Post’s Paul Farhi that Poynter had expressed concern earlier this week that the new site would compete with Poynter.org for advertising.
“I wondered if they were trying to discredit me so advertisers wouldn’t touch me,” Romenesko wrote in his email to The Post. “I have no evidence, though, that that was their motivation.”
He added that he “thought it was best” to leave Poynter after the attribution questions surfaced. “My heart was no longer in the job,” Romenesko told the Post.
Moos has responded to the Post and Nieman Journalism Lab about the advertising issue, writing in an email that Romenesko’s intention to post ads seemed to contradict his purpose of a “hobby site.” Those concerns were resolved on Wednesday before the attribution issue arose; she had planned to tell Romenesko that Poynter preferred “that he not solicit or accept advertising from our clients but leave it to him to do what he felt was right.”
More reaction: The Preposterous Plagiarism Assault on Romenesko (Gawker) | Jim Romenesko Quits Poynter After Controversy Over Attribution (The Huffington Post) | Media Critics Rush to Defend Jim Romenesko’s Right to Quote (Atlantic Wire) | ‘Original Media Aggregator’ Romenesko Resigns From Poynter Institute (paidContent.org) | Jim Romenesko Resigns Over Lifted Quotes (New York) | Jim Romenesko and the case of the missing quote marks (The Washington Post) | Jim Romenesko and the perils of aggregation (Media Nation)