Another day, another clutch of original stories ripped and rewritten as someone else’s reporting.

The news that once more a journalist’s original story — one that took weeks of interviews, research and actual writing — has been ripped off almost as soon as it was published has become depressingly commonplace.

Ginger Gorman took to social media to denounce the Daily Mail and Mamamia after they lifted her detailed investigative story about sexual abuse and ran the story on their websites with bylines attributing it to their own journalists.

The initial instinct is to blame the journalists who have so glibly attached their own names to the work of another, but this is a symptom of a deeper, systemic problem within media organisations. Traffic-obsessed and starved of resources, many newsrooms now simply turn over the reporting of other outlets. Just look at what happened to Krystal Johnson.

[Contempt of court charges for Yahoo7 and junior reporter]

It’s a lot easier to do than actual journalism. Trust me, I know. When I worked as a journalist and editor at news.com.au I was often asked to “write up” stories. Essentially someone had seen a great story and now one of my editors wanted it. The response was to get me or some other journalist to lift the quotes, add in a “told X media outlet” after the first quote and then just paraphrase the other person’s work.

A capable journalist can turn around half a dozen of these sorts of stories in a day; it’s a lot easier than chasing down leads that end up at dead ends or spending hours interviewing and researching when you’re not even sure there’s going to be a story at the end.

News.com.au was certainly guilty of it. Parent company News Corp’s shrill hysteria over the Daily Mail lifting its stories in recent years seems weird to me given it was something they did with regularity in the past — including lifting stories from the Daily Mail UK, such as this one, which news.com has since taken down.

I know it was a rewrite because I was the person who rewrote it.

An entire generation of journalists are entering the industry with no idea how to find original stories. Rounds have been replaced with websites to trawl for good stories, cadetships have become internships, and on-the-job training has been reduced to basic CMS proficiency and social media searches.

When journalists come to me with story ideas that turn out to be rewrites or lists of tweets reacting to something, I send them away and ask them to come up with something original. I’d rather no traffic than junk traffic, as I consider it. Better to have a smaller audience than spend valuable credibility and brand quality for the sugar rush of a quick rewrite.

However, I have the luxury of working for a public broadcaster so I don’t have to face the same commercial realities of other editors, but I can sympathise with their position.

The problem though is that as more outlets stop reporting and start cannibalising the work of others it accelerates the death of real news and paves the way for trivia, fake news and trash beat-ups. By undermining the outlets that do quality journalism, you speed their decline as you rob them of their audience. I personally think that you also undermine your own publication as the audience begins to think of you as being another version of say, the Daily Mail, and less of a real news organisation with any kind of real purpose.

If you get asked to rewrite this piece, please do it well.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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