Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

The Age is guilty of plagiarism, or the pathetic hypocrisy of professional journalism


On Sunday 28 November I read on Twitter that members of the Newcastle band The Seabellies had been attacked on Brunswick St in Fitzroy the night before. I read through the Twitter exchanges, summarised the story, checked the band’s social media profiles for extra information, linked to all the primary sources, provided some context and commentary and published a story the next day, Monday 29 November. This behaviour has traditionally been called ‘journalism’.

The incident started to be discussed on the Melbourne based music news and forum site Mess and Noise at about the same time and a contributor kindly linked to my story. Mess and Noise published a news story about the event on 30 November and another a day later featuring photos the injured musicians had posted on the band’s Facebook account.

A photo of a member of the Seabellies posted on Facebook on 29 November 2010 / photographer: unknown / used under the fair dealings provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 / c2010

Mess and Noise acknowledged the source of the photos but did not link back to them, and did not acknowledge Fitzroyalty as the likely source of its first story. The sequence of events suggests that the Mess and Noise editors became aware of the incident due to the discussion in their forum, and that they found my story as a result of the link posted there.

It would have been nice of Mess and Noise to acknowledge this, but they didn’t. I’m hardly surprised, as their editorial practices have no ethical foundation. When I contacted them last year to ask them to remove a photo of mine that had been stolen and posted on their forum without my permission, they never replied.

On Friday 5 December, 5 days after the news broke on Twitter and 4 days after I published the first story about it, Amy Edwards published a story about it in the Newcastle Herald, and it was syndicated at the same time in the Age (both papers are part of Fairfax).

The story made no mention of Twitter as the primary source, or of the likely secondary sources (Fitzroyalty and / or Mess and Noise), and reproduced the band’s Facebook photos without attribution. It was written in such a way as to imply that the discovery and investigation of the story was the original work of the so-called ‘journalist’.

A screen capture of the Newcastle Herald made on 3 December 2010

You can’t comment on the Age but you can on the Newcastle Herald, so I posted a comment asking them to acknowledge their sources, but of course the comment was not published and the story was not corrected. Edwards’ email is not listed on the story and the only profile I can find of her is on LinkedIn, and I cannot use that to contact her.

A screen capture of the Age made on 3 December 2010

Some Melbourne journalists read Fitzroyalty and steal recycle its original stories, and they also reference it (including recently quoting it in an Age Epicure article about food bloggers), but I cannot know whether Edwards saw my original post about the incident.

It is perhaps more likely she saw the Mess and Noise article, so it is difficult criticise her for not referencing Fitzroyalty when Mess and Noise failed to do so. But she equally failed to acknowledge Mess and Noise or check whether it was a reliable source. Theft is still theft even if you steal from a thief.

I can criticise the Fairfax papers for failing to do two things: properly researching and acknowledging the background to the story (which should have resulted in at least Edwards mentioning Twitter) and acknowledging that the photos of the injured band members originated from their Facebook profile.

This is mediocre greedy commercial media at its worst. Media robber barons bleat endlessly when bloggers steal and republish their content without permission or attribution, and they whinge about aggregating services like Google and Facebook exploiting their content without compensation. It sees social media as a parasite feeding off commercial media.

A photo of a member of the Seabellies posted on Facebook on 29 November 2010 / photographer: unknown / used under the fair dealings provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 / c2010

But when the reverse happens media corporations are complete hypocrites – they regularly steal content in violation of copyright and intellectual property laws and they fail to uphold the fundamental principles of supposed ‘professional journalism’ – to tell the whole story, to acknowledge sources and to provide a service to readers (such as by using hyperlinks to enable readers to access more information).

Linking is not just ethical in online media, it’s efficient. Contributors to social networks appreciate using links to find further information, and reciprocate by providing links whenever possible to facilitate the efficient sharing of information with their peers. Just like the person posting a link to my post in the Mess and Noise forum.

In contrast, commercial media corporations fail to understand and replicate the required and expected behaviour of the internet – linking. Their editorial policies mandate that website addresses in print newspaper stories are not converted into hyperlinks when published on their websites. In this way they fail to provide a basic service to their readers. They want to prevent readers from leaving their sites but are too stupid to realise we do it anyway.

This is how the band’s photos should have been published and referenced: ‘A member of the Seabellies, Facebook, 29/11/2010′. Easy. Instead, the Age and the Newcastle Herald stole the content and republished it as if it was their own. This is not ‘journalism’. This is plagiarism.

On the subject of plagiarism, the Age’s own code of conduct (dated 1998) states that:

  1. Staff must not reproduce other people’s material without attribution.
  2. The source of published material obtained from another organisation should be acknowledged.
  3. Bylines should be carried only on material that is substantially the work of the bylined journalist.

By my reckoning the Age has broken all three of these standards. The Facebook photos should have been attributed, the sources (Twitter, Fitzroyalty and Mess and Noise) should have been acknowledged and Amy does not deserve a byline as the article is not substantially her own work (the work of converting the fragmentary Twitter posts into a coherent news story was substantially done by Fitzroyalty).

The Age’s code of conduct also replicates the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s (MEAA) code of ethics, which states: ‘Aim to attribute information to its source’ and ‘Do not plagiarise’. Another comprehensive failure here Amy (and her sub-editor). Well done.

The editors of the Age and the Newcastle Herald will soon be receiving emails from me requesting corrections and apologies for the plagiarism and the failure to acknowledge sources. Should they fail to respond I will complain to the Australian Press Council. I lodged a similar complaint last year and it resulted in the humiliation of News Ltd. Is Fairfax as imbecilic? We’ll soon find out.

Media corporations talk of the high value of their work and its product – original  content. They argue that their work is stolen because it is unique and has significant value. By stealing social media content, dead tree media demonstrates (in the most ungrateful and unprofessional way possible) that it values what it’s stealing. So who’s the parasite now?


  1. Hi,
    I work at The Age, not in a writing position, but I did previously work in the copyright area (although the other side of it; organizing licenses for those wanting to reproduce our writers’ work). If the article was only published online, may I suggest sending your query to the Online Editor rather than the general Editor, PR, as the print and online editions of The Age are quite separate units, with different editorial policies. Ocasionally, I would receive similar emailed complaints to our copyright area, and we would send them straight to our legal department, so I do hope the current staff would also follow this practice. I do encourage you to follow up with this, as I agree that what happened doesn’t look good.

  2. Hi Brian, you seem to jump to some pretty big conclusions here.
    Firstly, how do you know Amy didn’t get the story first hand from the band themselves? The Newcastle music community is quite small and tight knit, and it would be easy for the information to get back to the music journalist.

    Maybe she’s friends with one of the band members, maybe their manager gave the paper a call thinking it was an easy way to score some local promo… you don’t know anything for sure, and to presume that they MUST have seen M&N or Fitzroyalty is a bit of a stretch.

    As for the pics, as they are the Seabellies photos, how do you know they didn’t supply those pictures to Amy directly. Print media have high standards when it comes to photos, I hardly believe they would take them straight off facebook without chasing them from the band first. Therefore your linking claims are irrelevant.

    We can also assume Amy had direct contact from the band because she has quotes from them, unique information (stuff about a previous attack in Newcastle), and info on upcoming plans (which sounds like it’s been fed by a publicist/manager). PLUS they have a press shot, which is also likely to have been supplied.

    Just because a newspaper has written about an incident doesn’t mean they have seen your site or M&N. In fact, I would wholeheartedly believe Amy has written this piece simply off information supplied by the band – it’s clear that’s she’s done a quick interview, which is also called Journalism.

    Journalists don’t have an obligation to search out each and every website/twitter/facebook post that has previously written about an incident and quote them in their stories. This is especially true if they haven’t even used info from that site.

    I really think you need to do a little more investigation before jumping on your blog and having a rant. Why don’t you at least try giving Amy a call before you go slandering her across the internet – that would be the normal, courteous thing to do.

    Get off your high horse mate!

    • Your comment indicates that don’t know much about how the media works. The photos are digital, from iPhones, and they were definitively taken from Facebook. The ‘press shot’ is also from the band’s Facebook account and is on their MySpace etc.

      Edwards has obviously added to the content in the story with interviews and more background context for a Newcastle audience, but this does not disguise the fact that my site is the source of the story.

      You need to understand how the media works – it constantly looks at everything else being produced and takes things from many sources. The journalistic skill is partially in identifying what makes a good story, and I did that.

      The print media had access to the same primary sources as me and they failed to produce a story by themselves. They only did so by building on what I started and they are required by law and by the ethical standards of the industry to acknowledge this.

  3. How insulting that you presume that I don’t understand how the media works!

    Just because the photos are digital, does not mean that they have been taken from Facebook. Where is your proof? Just because a press shot is on their Facebook and Myspace, does not mean that it was not supplied to the journo directly by the band.

    Where is the proof that your site is the source of the story – just because you wrote about it first. THIS MEANS NOTHING. She could very, very easily have gotten it from her own independent source.

    I fail to see how the Newcastle Herald haven’t built their own primarily-sourced story. Why does your story that came from Twitter feeds carry any more legitimacy than theirs that can from actual interviews, possibly fed to them by a manager/publicist.

    Your comment indicates that you don’t know how music media works. Music writers are more often then not fed stories – as in this band it touring, this band is releasing an album etc… Or maybe she learnt about the story through being a fan of their facebook – which is still a legitimate source. Twitter is not the be all and end all of news stories.

    The facts are obvious, she has spoken to a member of the band, which a manager would have had knowledge of, and someone has clearly fed her info about their upcoming plans. The same person would have also supplied press photos, which is as industry standard (as print publications have problems printing online pics as they are low-res), and would have also likely supplied the original iphone pics.

    How dare you belittle me by saying that I don’t know how the media works – how presumptuous. I have worked in the media – and music media in particular – for over 6 years. I know what I’m talking about.

    Why do you automatically presume everyone is out to steal your stuff? I realise you’ve been burnt in the past, but there is no proof in this instance that this is the case. Just because you report on a incident, does not make you the exclusive rights holder of that story.

    Tell me, have you done your journalistic duty yet and actually called Amy and verified your claims? Their number is 02 4979 5000 in case you need it (source: their website).

    • Look at the Facebook links where it states below the photos ‘Uploaded via: Facebook for iPhone’. This, along with the timing, means the photos were taken immediately at the scene with iPhones and uploaded to Facebook from the iPhone. Of course the journalist has spoken to the band or its representatives, but only after becoming aware of the story from elsewhere.

      As I noted in the post, I could not find an email address for Edwards and so could not contact her regarding this issue. This site is a hobby, not my job. I don’t have time to call journalists during office hours.

  4. Again – where is the evidence that they learnt about the story elsewhere?

    If anything, the fact that it was published on Dec 3 lends to the reasoning that she wasn’t made aware of it until a few days after the incident – i.e. not through twitter, facebook, M&N or Fitzroyalty. So again, where’s the proof?

    And just because the pics were uploaded to facebook via iphone, does not mean they were pulled from there by the journalist. They could have easily been sent to the journo in an email.

    And what a lazy excuse that you can’t contact her during daytime hours… you have the time to slander her but you don’t have the time to verify your claims first.

    Give her a call tomorrow, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to hear you’ve been so interested in her work

  5. seems like someone is using multiple IP addresses to dislike you brian!

    • You mean with the voting on the comments? The plugin has an IP filter but if you use different computers with different IPs then yes this can happen.

  6. Hate to say it Brian but welcome to the world of journalism in the 21st century. As a former post grad journo who works in media… this is just the way things fly. No one actually gets their own stories anymore due to time restrictions in big companies. the few times i have worked at the ABC we were given stories to chase. no research needed. For those who work in the papers look at how many stories they have to produce individually per day.

    No one looks for their own stories anymore. but I wouldn’t be getting so upset about it. it’s just media. attribution for an idea or because you broke a story first is not likely anywhere in this world these days. Where it is blog etiquette it is defs not media etiquette. it’s just the way big media is and it won’t change… infact with the pace of today it is only going to get worse.

    • I know exactly what it is is like in commercial media companies, and as they won’t change their behaviour voluntarily the only thing I can do is expose what is happening and embarrass them into admitting to their unethical behaviour.

  7. “Mess and Noise acknowledged the source of the photos but did not link back to them, and did not acknowledge Fitzroyalty as the likely source of its first story. The sequence of events suggests that the Mess and Noise editors became aware of the incident due to the discussion in their forum, and that they found my story as a result of the link posted there.”

    this false and incorrect allegation has been clearly refuted by Mess and Noise who have stated their sources (the bands facebook page and interviews with the band themselves).

    i am curious why no correction or apology has been published in regards to this matter and in line with the Press Council’s second principle (ironically quoted by yourself in an earlier rant) – “‘Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence.”

    It has been shown that a serious inaccuracy has indeed been published.

    Why have you not corrected this error (even in the comments section, pfft) and given it due prominence?

    Should we report you to the Press Council for failing to uphold the principles you hold others accountable for?

    Or will they not care, cos you are just a blogger?

    • I have made an allegation and Mess and Noise have denied it. The objective facts of the matter may never be determined. Therefore no error has been established and there is no need (at the time I write this) to correct anything.

      Reporting me to the Australian Press Council won’t achieve anything because it does not represent or include purely online media like Mess and Noise and Fitzroyalty. It describes itself as the ‘self-regulatory body of the print media.’

      I planned to only complain about the Fairfax newspapers to the Australian Press Council should they not respond to me and correct their stories. You seem to be completely overlooking the issue that Fitzroyalty is only one of the content creators whose work has been cited without attribution.

      The issue is about media ethics and professional standards and also about providing a service to the readers (such as by including acknowledgements and links so they can go and read the original sources if they are interested enough to do so).

  8. but YOU’RE still missing the point.

    you’re not either parties source!

    one has informed you that you are not and you haven’t bothered to contact the other, just to sling some mud.

    • You’re assuming Mess and Noise are telling the truth. Based on past experience, I’m not. And this still does not address the issue of attribution of the content on Twitter and Facebook in the Fairfax papers.

  9. But you’re still assuming that The Newcastle Herald (and in turn The Age who syndicated the article) took content from Facebook and Twitter – when there is no evidence that they did.

    They didn’t quote anything from either site, and they could have easily been supplied those shots from the band (very likely if you know anything about music press), without even knowing they’re on the band’s facebook.

    Therefore at present, there is no evidence of plagiarism by The Age. Will you issue a correction on this one?

    Just call the journo if you’re so concerned about their reporting standards.

    You’re entire complaint is based on a truckload of assumptions. Even your continued criticism of Mess and Noise is now solely based on the fact that you’ve been burnt in the past – despite the site informing you that in this instance they sourced the story from Facebook and Twitter.

    Come On Brian, your claims at present are baseless, so when will you admit you are out of line.

  10. Mess and Noise have never lied about you.

    Do not bundle the 2 of them together.

    You have made baseless assumptions, been called out on your bullshit and are now too much of a spineless, pontificating, self important dullard to admit you have fucked up.

    • Clarification, Mess and Noise didn’t lie to me – they just allowed my content to be plagiarised on their site despite know about the problem, so they demonstrated unethical publishing practices. News Ltd lied to me and I believe that Fairfax has plagiarised content in relation to the Seabellies incident. When commercialism is the first priority professionalism, ethics and service to readers all suffer.

  11. “Clarification, Mess and Noise didn’t lie to me – they just allowed my content to be plagiarised on their site despite know about the problem, so they demonstrated unethical publishing practices”

    Telling fibs again Brian…. and really, trying thinking and/or telling the truth before hitting “submit:.

    a person posted the image in a forum, which was taken from Gumtree who lifted it from you.

    the person posting it had never even heard of your blog.

    and after your tantrum, the thread was deleted.

    so where are the ethics missing?

    do you want the editors to check the source of every photo readers post in a forum?

    • The thread was removed only after I posted an article about Mess and Noise failing to respond to my initial polite email asking for it to be removed. I have already explained this – please try to keep up.

  12. Just to clarify, your strong evidence is just that the pics they used are the same ones that are on facebook… you do realise that pictures can be sent via other means right?!

    The problem with Facebook is it compresses pics and makes them really low resolution, making them (in most cases) unacceptable for printing in a newspaper. Any journalist and editor would have asked for the original, uncompressed pics to be emailed through, as although still not being press quality (which we can see by how blurry they are), they would be of a higher quality than those on facebook.

    And as for this circumstantial evidence crap, are you serious! What, because you wrote about it first, and they also wrote about it, then they must have seen your article. Wow!

    How are you not getting this!!!

    • If they were aware of it, yes, which is the basis of my allegation. The photos were first published on Facebook by the band and this should have been referenced by the newspapers even if they received the photos via email etc from the band and did not actually take them off Facebook. Acknowledging the source is one thing, providing context for the readers is another, as you consistently fail to understand. The Fairfax papers failed in both aspects.

  13. Ahhh but Brian, this isn’t plagiarism – as you have alleged. And you are still assuming they saw the pics and story on facebook first! They could easily have been sent to the journalist without her even seeing them on facebook.

    Just because it was put on facebook first, does not mean the paper have to acknowledge this. You don’t see streetpress acknowledging every publication that previously printed a band press shot – those things get used hundreds and thousands of times! Nor was facebook the source of the photo, an iPhone was. It was later published to facebook. How is this relevant context for the reader?

    “If they were aware of it” – you still haven’t called the poor journo yet? You’ve had plenty of time to publish and respond to our comments today, but you can’t pick up the phone and give her a call??

  14. We clearly disagree on many things – I for one would never slander a journo without at least having the decency to call them and verify my claims.

    Your a gutless arsehole Brian

  15. I should know not to get involved by now… But Brian… you’re so good at the Fitzroyalty blogging itself (why else would we all keep coming back?). It really baffles me — must you sully your credibility with these frankly quite silly rants about “dead tree media” raping and pillaging your journalistic endeavours? Your refusal to ever back down, even when presented with far more plausible explanations for these events — this so-called plagiarism for example… Why are you so utterly convinced that the world is out to get you and everyone else is wrong? When you are right, the majority of your commentators come out of the woodwork and cheer you on. Does it not strike you as suspicious that in this instance nobody else seems to think you have a leg to stand on?

    By all means, raise your voice when you think you have been plagiarised — but be prepared to occasionally get it wrong, and admit so gracefully… Aah I’ve said it before and you will ignore me again. But to recognise ones mistakes is nothing to be ashamed of! Far less than stubborn and patronising replies which convince absolutely nobody, apparently.

    • The issue is plagiarism committed by commercial media, and I am not the only victim. Most commenters seem to be ignoring this. I will be publishing a follow up soon once I have the final responses from the Fairfax editors.

      Most commenters also seem to be making assumptions about Fitzroyalty that are not correct: that it is not read by or known about by journalists (I have evidence to the contrary) and that my alleged paranoia about having my work exploited is unfounded (despite having already proven that my work has been stolen by News Ltd).

  16. I’ve been a journalist for 8 years (UK) and worked the past 8 six years in PR (including blogging) and studied media law and, Brian, your blogging views are sinking faster than the Australian wickets during the Ashes. Poor form old bean!!

    I don’t want to go over the arguments as they are so Bill Hicks clear that you got it wrong, in my vastly more experience opinion than yours. And you have an age-old cranky Aussie problem of not being altruistic enough to see others’ views or even the bare faced facts stare at you like a full moon in clear skies. I also happen know Amy, and she would scope your amateur wanna-be subversive arse any day on a story…she is a proper journalist, whereas a blogger like you merely pretends with an audience that’s usually (until now) already converted to your rants.

    Now, perhaps go to college and learn the ropes like other journos have to do, work your two year cadetship at the coal face and then come back to blog and challenge the real world of journalism. Other bloggers who are not media trained can acknowledge the mass media and be a part of the new social media, providing the public with another source, but you go on quoting codes and ethics like an MEAA shop steward.

    Feel free to email me for media guidance in the future. My advice now is stopping digging a hole and swallow that bitter blog!


    • More commentary from an anonymous coward who won’t put his/her real name to their opinion. I have a PhD in Literature and more training in critical thought, textual analysis, the construction of reasoned arguments and writing than most journalists, who mediocrity cannot be exaggerated. I have since proved multiple instances of plagiarism in Fairfax websites.

      One sign of antiquated, irrational, moronic journalists like you is their absolute hatred of bloggers for being more interesting and relevant to audiences than journalists. Your assumption that bloggers are untrained and unskilled is further evidence of your ignorance, and fails to acknowledge that many blogs are published by knowledge economy professionals with postgraduate degrees and far more cognitive ability than the average journalist.

      No wonder you know the Newcastle journalist responsible for this plagiarism – your IP address resolves to Sandgate, just outside Newcastle, and the Hunter New England Area Health Service, a NSW government agency.

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