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An Epidemic of Crazy

There are things that make me pretty angry, and then there are things that make me want to put up my hands and wonder how a large sect of the population is allowed to procreate.

Unfortunately, this past week has put forth a series of events illustrative of the latter response. In just a span of three or four days, college football hero Warren St. John was sued and the guys penning The Michigan Zone were constructively molested by the Worldwide Leader in Sports. There are aspects of both incidents that I find despicable, but I am only going to deal with the latter instance currently. I will leave the Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer lawsuit for some time in the near future.

Shoplifting at The Michigan Zone
Of all the people in the world that should have a solid foundation in ethics, one would assume that journalists would be amongst those individuals. Colin Cowherd, host of ESPNRadio’s “The Herd,” appears to have slept through too many of his journalism classes while a student at Eastern Washington University.

On Wednesday morning, Cowherd presented a satire of the NFL’s Wonderlic Test. This piece lampooned the infamous examination through a series of ridiculous questions and answers. At no time did Cowherd expressly claim credit for creating the piece; rather, Cowherd only indicated in passing that the bit was obtained on the “internet.” Whether this was a conscious effort on the part of Cowherd to take credit for the piece through omission is uncertain. What is certain is that Cowherd’s subsequent behavior is detestable and should be a growing concern for anyone concerned with the multi-faceted dimension of publication.

For quite a long time members of the mainstream media have been farming the ample fields of thought and expression exhibited on the web. Recently, writers such as Maddox, Orson Swindle and Stranko Montana have had original material harvested by radio and print outlets and published without proper attribution. While the flattery inherent in producing material worthy of plagiarism is heartening, the fact still remains that internet-based writers are being trampled upon by those who either (1) believe that there will be no repercussions for blatantly stealing material from the web, or (2) simply have no respect for the driving force behind contemporary dissemination of information and nuveau journalism. This is patently unacceptable.

Even though I am a law student, I have had little exposure to the law governing copyright and fair-use. Thus, I am not in a position to render a reasoned opinion as to how an adjudicatory body should determine the issues presented by the Cowherd Debacle or others taking place, presumably, on a somewhat regular basis. I do, however, feel as if I am more than qualified to present my opinion on the ethical issues surrounding such appropriation.

For the most part, the explosion of internet-based literature has significantly impacted publication, most notably in the field of journalism. This explosion of amateur writing, however, should not abrogate ethical considerations associated with appropriating material for one’s beneficial use. In fact, given the uncertainty surrounding the legal and ethical consequences of appropriating material from the internet, individuals in the mainstream media should employ extreme caution when exploiting material emanating from the web. Thus, in addition to common attribution practice, individuals in the mainstream media who choose to publish or reference internet-based material must use extensive vetting procedures to ensure that any form of plagiarism takes place.

In short, it is not just a question of common courtesy, but also one of respect for the practice of publication.

The ramifications associated with the mainstream media’s failure to employ a high standard of attribution has wider reach than simply legal liability. Generally, internet-based writers are not looking for fame or fortune. Rather, they simply employ the web as their vehicle for expression because it is an accessible means to reach a desired end. If internet-based writers were looking to make a career out of writing, I am more than certain that they would pursue a position at a newspaper or magazine rather than maintaining whatever profession they currently practice. As a result of this state of affairs, I fear that should misappropriation continue in the manner it has the large stable of internet-based writers would abandon its collective obsession. This fear is buttressed by two assumptions.

First, if internet-based authors continue to be exploited by members of the mainstream media the incentives of online publication would disappear. In short, if an individual in the mainstream media is going to publish an internet-based author’s material without attribution or permission, there is little motivation to brainstorm and research interesting pieces of authorship. As noted, most internet-based writers are not looking to make a buck. However, if someone other than the original author is going to receive a substantial benefit from the published material, undeniable questions arise as to why this constructive servitude is appealing.

The second assumption rests upon the residue created by the first. If misappropriation by the mainstream media is to continue, that necessarily presumes that many internet-based authors will seek to protect their interests in the published material. This is both a complex and expensive undertaking, especially for a population of part-time writers. Obtaining the infrastructure and legal assistance necessary to protect one’s copyright and intellectual property interests is quite overwhelming. Not only will this chill speech and promote litigation, but also promotes malfeasance as it can be reasonably supposed that most internet-based writers will not pursue the aforementioned options to protect their interests. Thus, those individuals insulated by sufficient finances and general notoriety can continue to misappropriate material without obstruction.

That is not only unfair. It is un-American.

The other aspect of this fiasco that is disheartening is that it signals another haymaker thrown by the mainstream media against internet-based writers. Whether motivated by jealously, fear, or baseless disdain, the rhetoric being exhibited by the mainstream sports media against bloggers appears to be ratcheting up. This is exemplified perfectly in Cowherd’s responses to The Michigan Zone emails and this past summer’s Des Moines Register tussle.

Why members of the mainstream sports media refuse to recognize the significance and usefulness of internet-based writers in beyond my comprehension. Bloggers (at least those that I read and associate with) provide a non-duplicable service which weaves traditional journalism with interesting opinion and commentary. The media should embrace internet-based publication, not ridicule it as an unworthy competitor.

This is not to say that all members of the mainstream media loathe bloggers or other web-based authors. Rather, many mainstream media outlets have embraced the blogging revolution. For example, the Syracuse Post-Standard has established three blogs penned by staff writers dedicated to Syracuse’s triumvirate of obsession. Not only have the writers for the Post-Standard accepted the common custom of internet based attribution and mutual respect, but the blogs have become as popular as the newspaper’s print edition, if not more. Thus, an atmosphere of cooperation between internet-based writing and traditional media can reasonably be established that feeds a consumer’s thirst for information and opinion. As a result, I believe quite strongly that should the mainstream media continue to deride and disrespect internet-based expression, it will not eliminate what is erroneously believed to be “competition,” but rather quash a useful and interesting product of publication desired by its consumers.

The moral of this story is that the internet is here to stay and with it will always be enterprising young writers producing interesting material on a regular basis. Until some clarity is established as to the role of internet-based publication and how the mainstream media is to treat such material, issues presented by Colin Cowherd’s actions against The Michigan Zone will continue to come under strict scrutiny.

[Step off soapbox here.]

2 Responses to “An Epidemic of Crazy”

  1. # Anonymous Rob

    Good article and read Matt..  

  2. # Anonymous Matt

    Yeah, I'm pretty terrific.

    In case you were wondering, Cowherd actually apologized to The Michigan Zone today on his radio broadcast and attributed the material to them through numerous references to the blog.

    So, it looks like the good guys won this battle.  

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