Fitzroyalty

Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

the Mana bar closure – a case study in the evolution of a news story and more evidence of Fairfax plagiarism

| 8 Comments

I rarely know which of the articles I write will resonate with audiences. In most cases I write about what I see on walks around my home suburb simply to document it as social history. It may interest a few fellow locals who, like me, watch the opening and closing of shops and businesses over time with benign interest. Occasionally the story has wider relevance, like the hidden pizza restaurant ambush marketing fiasco back in 2010.

I published an article about the Mana video games themed bar on Brunswick St closing at 12.06am on 5 August 2013. It quickly got posted to Reddit, where a big discussion took place, and Facebook. My post got a lot of traffic from those sites and other gamer forums and blogs that day, such as Player Attack and Stevivor, which both demonstrated professional journalistic ethics in acknowledging Fitzroyalty as the source of the story.

Then the ethics ended. Kotaku and Gizmodo ran the story the same day without acknowledging the source, though they both included a link to the real estate listing for the property, which was first associated with the story in Reddit. That suggests they got the link from Reddit, had read the Reddit post, and thus saw the link to Fitzroyalty but chose not to acknowledge it.

They should have also acknowledged the Reddit post as it contributed to the story by combining my post with the real estate listing. It Wire linked to Reddit in its version but not to Fitzroyalty. Again, by being aware of the Reddit post, it would have been aware that the story originated with Fitzroyalty.

At 1.59pm that day the bar acknowledged that they were planning to close on Facebook and Twitter. None of these articles or posts predate mine, and I am very confident that Fitzroyalty broke the story. I was surprised by the level of interest in the story given that my observations of patronage at the bar had led me to suspect that it was not popular enough to survive. Gamer culture may be strong in Melbourne but that has apparently not resulted in strong support for the bar.

A whole week later, Fairfax’s Weekly Review ran the story, using the exact Fitzroyalty headline, without acknowledging the source of the story. Their article also contains a list of Brunswick St businesses that have closed since 2010. The journalist claims to have been collecting that information for some time from various sources. I wonder if some of that detail, particularly about more obscure closed businesses, was obtained from a hyperlocal site that documents such things?

social media media intellectual property hyperlocal fitzroy

A screenshot of the article headline one the Weekly Review website on 12 August 2013

The journalist who wrote the article claimed that she was informed about the story by her deputy editor. But she had contacted me by email in 2011 and wanted to meet with me, which indicates that she has been aware of Fitzroyalty since then.

I declined the offer to meet her in 2011. I don’t want to be groomed as a source of free stories. Her approach was similar to that of previous journalists who have contacted me. One used information and a photo I provided without attribution in direct opposition to a written contract to provide attribution and told a deliberate lie about me. I made a complaint to the Australian Press Council that was upheld and the local paper that did this was forced to make a public apology.

The prevailing approach of commercial media is to mislead audiences by suggesting that it is the source of the story, when it often isn’t. Fairfax has history as a repeat social media plagiarist. Their journalists routinely ignore their own code of conduct, which requires them to acknowledge their sources, and they never admit to failing their own professional standards.

I believe there are too many coincidences here for this to be a coincidence.

8 comments

  1. I think they probably did get the story from you and should have acknowledged it but it’s impossible to prove it. I saw it on Facebook through Mana Bar’s page, then went to Reddit where I saw your article. Say hypothetically the Fairfax reporter saw a like on facebook linking to the Mana Bar page. It’s not their job to worry about who reported it first. A fact is a fact. It’s there to report. They have confirmation from the source and are not relying directly on your report for information. I think it is completely unreasonable to accuse someone of being unethical in these circumstances. Once news is out and confirmed it’s not necessary to trace the reporting trail when you aren’t relying on someone’s work directly. Here they are working from the Bar’s own statement. Yes you got there first. You are the one who broke the story. Well done. The headline a generally created by subs not journalists. Also it’s an obvious headline so it’s not in my opinion clear it was copied. It is entirely possible they saw a link on facebook to the bar’s statement and took their information from there. Because that’s entirely possible I really think you should apologise to the journalist. People probably are ripping off your reporting off but unless you can prove it and you are the only source of the information it’s unjust to cast aspersions. If I found a twitter posts referencing the lease that predated your story I wouldn’t suggest for a second that you took the information from that post. This was a good story Brian and you did a great job on it. But once the info is out there and people aren’t relying on your work for info it’s not yours anymore. You really need to look on the bright side! You kickstarted a discussion about Brunswick st. Your opinions and reporting generates news and discussion. Well done.

    • I never said the journalist wrote the headline. Read what I wrote. I accuse the masthead generally of using my story and headline without attribution. I am aware that sub-editors generally write headlines to fit into spaces after stories are edited and page layout is done, which determines how much space is available.

      It’s very difficult to measure accurately the dispersion of the story and who read it on which site. I may not be able to prove my accusation but the combination of coincidences is equally unconvincing. These journalists are told by their employer to plagiarise and I have demonstrated proof that this has been widespread at Fairfax for years. On a balance of probabilities I believe my claim is plausible.

      Could you post a link to the Twitter posts you mention? I have not seen those. I based my story on the real estate sign.

  2. I’m sorry I was unclear. I meant hypothetically if I found twitter posts predating your story I would not assume you had take the information from those posts and not mentioned them. i.e I would give you the benefit of the doubt. I think it is a very serious thing to accuse someone of being unethical without absolute evidence. I think you should be please that you are doing actual reporting and that others are then following up on the stories you are generating. My issue is that it’s not your story. You don’t own the facts. If a tram brakes down and you report it and someone else sees the same tram and rights a similar report they don’t have to acknowledge you just because you got their first. Acknowledgement is only required if they are not doing their own reporting and relying entirely on your work. Here the bar had put out a statement. Probably as a result of your post but nevertheless your work is not being taken. Copyright as you know protects the expression of ideas not ideas themselves. You’ll probably disagree but I think that it’s a shame that you’ve turned something which should have been very positive for you into a negative. I’m not trying to have a fight Brian I think you are reporting well on local issues and actually putting in some work but I think one of these days your going to get sued because you’re pretty quick (in my opinion) to attack people without absolute proof. If someone takes a photo you took, they are a copyright thief. Absolutely call them out on it. You’re pointing the finger without the truth and I don’t think it’s fair.

    • It’s impossible to have absolute proof. I wasn’t in the discussion when the editor told the journalist about the story. As I said in my previous comment, on a balance of probabilities, given the details in the Fairfax article and how it correlates to content on Fitzroyalty (including the list of closed businesses, some of which were never popular or fashionable and hence unlikely to have been written about elsewhere) I believe my claim is plausible.

      Faifax’s history of social media plagiarism is significant in this context. I make no mention of copyright. My claim is about a lack of attribution, which indicates plagiarism.

      Stories now spread much faster online than in the real world. The number of people who see evidence of the story, such as the real estate sign, in the real world is tiny compared to the number who read about it online. This makes it more likely that someone learned about this situation from my article than independently by viewing the same evidence.

  3. Well maybe so. If I was to say “where are your ethics?” to someone I’d want to be a little more sure than just plausible. My own personal view is that attribution is only necessary when you are relying solely on one source. I think here they were relying on the facebook link and interviews. I don’t think there is plagiarism. It would in my opinion be clumsy and irrelevant to mention that you had posted about the lease. You seem like a passionate guy Brian and but I think you’re a little off the mark on this one. Other times in my opinion you’ve been 100% correct to call people out. You don’t wont my advice but here’s some anyway.. be careful when having a go at people’s reputations. If you need to defend yourself you want to be 100% right. Don’t pick a fight you might lose.

    • Acknowledging sources is not ‘clumsy and irrelevant’. It is required by the Fairfax code of conduct. Even if they first heard about it via the bar’s own Facebook posts this should be acknowledged. Subsequently verbally interviewing bar staff does not make this irrelevant or unnecessary.

      My point is that mainstream commercial media is engaged in a political war with social media whereby it refuses to acknowledge that social media is now a primary source of news content because it makes mainstream commercial media look irrelevant.

      It is not in mainstream commercial media’s interests to present the truth to the public about its own increasing irrelevance so it continues to mislead them by obfuscating the sources of news stories by not attributing where attribution is required.

      By falsely implying that it broke this story Fairfax has been fundamentally dishonest.

      • Yes and they acknowledged the source of their information that they reported on. I know you will disagree. You should complain to the Australian Press Council so you can have other people tell you you’re wrong as well.

        • No Fairfax didn’t name a source in their article. Let’s assume for the sake of this argument that they read Mana bar’s Facebook post and phoned them to interview them after that to get more detail. The source of the story is therefore Mana bar’s Facebook page. The journalist would not have randomly phoned the bar without a reason. Well done on missing the point.

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