Are traditional news media stealing scoops from bloggers?

Late in the summer of ’10, we made a giant pot of coffee and commenced our weekend ritual of splaying the Sunday Tribune out on the living room floor in our jammies. I opened the newspaper and saw something surprisingly familiar, a two-page feature on newborn circumcision. The topic was a bit avant-garde at the time, considering the circumcision debate had not recently been on the national news scene. Yet it hit close to home for me because I was pregnant and had just come off the heels of a two-week surge in traffic on my blog when I had asked the question, if this child is a boy, should he be circumcised?

The post was so huge, in fact, I had to shut off comments as they became more and more extreme (“likes” and retweets were erased when this blog moved to WordPress). The debate had raged from defensive mothers and the movers and shakers on the front lines of circumcision education.  Just two short weeks later, my “hot topic” made the jump to the printed Sunday Chicago Tribune. (This blog, in case it isn’t clear, is on ChicagoNow, which is part of the Chicago Tribune Media Group and links to my posts appear on from time to time.)

Coincidence, or did the Chicago Tribune scoop some inspiration from Chicago Now?

There are other examples of traditional news media running stories that originated on blogs, or at the very least, the incidents are suspiciously coincidental. Take for example the gun control debate on this blog a few weeks ago. Days later the Red Eye, another Chicago Tribune publication, ran a story on this dicey topic. And just yesterday CBS Chicago, who has featured me in the past, was the only other news source (besides me here at Chicago Now) reporting on the parental backlash of Nick. Jr.’s new programming.

This isn’t just happening to me. A Chicago Now law blogger noticed her stories appearing in the Red Eye. Another Chicago Now blogger felt her post* about manners, Rush Limbaugh and a brief historical context of the word “uppity” on November 26 was eerily similar to an opinion piece* with nearly identical points and format was featured on the Trib online the following day.  As it turns out, the latter piece was due to an editor just hours after the former was posted so it is highly unlikely the two were related. Regardless, it felt like the ultimate flattery to the blogger. Perhaps this is just a commentary on the caliber of her thought.

Although no nod to individual bloggers is given when bigger news outlets are inspired by their work, I believe it is positive for the community as a whole. When traditional media fishes for hot topics on blogs, it legitimizes the blogger and furthers the discussion. It proves the point that in 2012, bloggers are many times front line journalists, tapping into current and explosive topics. As the waters are tested in the comments sections of these posts, the gap is bridged making them “safe” for bigger media.

What is frustrating from a blogger’s perspective, ego aside, is that when a blogger writing on a major news media platform is criticized, he or she is held to the same high journalistic standards as the rest of the media network. My best example is when I made the mistake of venting on this blog about my discomfort with volunteer co-op dads taking my daughter to the bathroom at preschool. I faced harsh criticism and personal attacks from a rights group for perpetuating negative male stereotypes in the mainstream media. Blogging? Mainstream media? I suppose when it’s part of the Chicago Tribune Media Group I can see their point.

The problem in this situation is that bloggers, officially “independent contractors”, are not protected in the same way print journalists are. I’m not saying they should be, but it felt rather lonely being pelted for my opinions as if ChicagoNow bloggers are are writing legit opinion pieces for the Chicago Tribune. Unless, just maybe, we are.

Someone made fun of me the other day and said, “who does she think she is, Walter Cronkite?” That was one of over 90 comments on the official Nick Jr. Facebook page that expressed unhappiness with my take on the retiring of a cartoon Moose I wrote about yesterday. Can you blame me for feeling a little Walter Cronkite-ish with that kind of exposure? I mean, for a housewife who pecks around on a blog? I may just have to grow a white mustache.

And that’s the way it is.


 *links to these examples were removed at the request of the blogger

Edited to add: I had hoped to start a conversation about larger media following trends of smaller media. Instead, this post did get picked up by a national journalism site that had a few things to say.


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