March 26, 2012

This week’s issue of The New Yorker has a profile of the Daily Mail and the place it holds in Britain. The timing is perfect: last week the paper won 10 prizes at the U.K. Press Awards and the Mail was named Newspaper of the Year.

Writer Lauren Collins focuses most of her New Yorker piece on the paper, but also talks with Martin Clarke, editor of Mail Online, the Web version of the Mail. Recently, it was recognized as the newspaper site with the biggest online reach worldwide, according to one major analytics firm.

In addition to attracting lots of traffic, the Mail’s website has recently become a lightning rod for criticism. Earlier this month, I wrote about two Newsweek/Daily Beast writers (1,2) who said Mail Online stole their work and either offered no credit or the “tiniest fig leaf of attribution.”

These accusations have become increasingly frequent. Gawker’s Danny Gold expressed concerns in rather forceful terms earlier this month:

It’s not just that they steal stories so blatantly. They’ve been doing it for years, this is nothing new. It’s that they’re a bunch of assholes about it. They go out of their way to fuck over journalists and they reap the benefits by becoming the most highly trafficked newspaper on the Internet. How hard would it be to put in one link to an article?

So what does Clarke have to say about the accusations of story stealing and related claims of plagiarism? Here’s what he told Collins:

“We never like to follow a story without improving it, with either new facts, graphics, pictures, or video.” He went on, “We are also still catching up on some aspects of our Web-publishing platform, which was originally built just to put a newspaper online rather than run a rolling Internet news service. We will soon be introducing features that will allow us to link easily and prominently to other sites when further recognition of source material is needed.

His first defense — that they add value — relates to how the Mail’s site displays stories: they embed a ton of photos and other imagery within the text of the story (see this example for one of the stories taken from Newsweek).

And, yes, the Mail will often also add in facts from other stories, sometimes taking an American story and bringing in an example or two from elsewhere in the world. That was the case with another story taken from Newsweek, but the Mail version was taken offline not long after my post was published about the accusations of theft.

Of course, none of those points negate the way Mail Online treats content from other publishers:

  • Mail Online often reprints entire sentences and paragraphs without permission or attribution.
  • When it helps itself to copy from elsewhere and does decide to offer some form of credit, the most the Mail can manage is but one mention of the original source.
  • It does not link back to other media outlets. (Clarke blames this on the way their site is designed.)
  • When called out for stealing a story, Mail Online will sometimes remove the offending copy from its website without acknowledging the offense and/or apologizing.

Clarke told Collins that Mail Online adheres to fair use. That’s a puzzling statement when a portion of the online stories that bear the “Daily Mail Reporter” byline are taken from elsewhere without thought to fair use, netiquette or ethical aggregation.

The two recent examples of work taken from Newsweek are just the latest in a long line of Mail Online stories that liberally cut and paste copy from other websites. Recently, Mail Online has stolen stories and text from The IndependentThe Scotsman and Wikipedia, Bikya Masr, and the BBC, among others.

The U.K.-based Tabloid Watch blog has been cataloging similar incidents for some time. Visit the site’s plagiarism category page and scroll down for offense after offense. Poynter also previously reported on a particularly egregious bit of theft by the website.

It’s all the more remarkable, then, that of the 10 awards The Daily Mail won, one was for Website of the Year. In the citation for Mail Online, judges said the site’s “large amount of original content makes it essential reading in the newsrooms of competitors.”

Of course, it’s also possible competitors are visiting Mail Online to see if their stories have ended up there under someone else’s byline…

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Craig Silverman ( is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
Craig Silverman

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