Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Journo world in uproar over our Elli exclusive!

Our Man Elli in Israel not only broke major news with his exposé on the first season of the Israel Baseball League, but in breaking the story here on Tabloidbaby.com, he-- and we-- have established something of a landmark in Internet journalism, as our exclusive now "illustrates the complex issues of deadlines, exclusivity, paying and non-paying clients, and whether newspapers and Web sites are separate entities."

Journalist Alan D. Abbey has the article on the Romenesko media news dumpsite this morning.

And that's a story in itself. We at Tabloid Baby have been one of Jim Romenesko's greatest supporters for a decade. But Jim (left), whose page is part of the hoity-toity Poynter journalism institute site, has proven himself to be a journalistic snob by refusing over the years to link to any Tabloid Baby stories, no matter their importance. In fact, he's sent us at least one nasty email, because we have the word "Tabloid" in our name. Romenesko obviously doesn't see our shared connection as media watchdogs, and to the pure roots of journalism that one can't learn in an ivy-covered "j- school."

And he lost out because of it. We'd sent him a link to Elli's story-- a week ago. He ignored it. Now he has the story a week late and a dollar short. Schmuck.

Who's on First? Online/Print Publishing Dilemma

A story that recently made the rounds of Jewish (and non-Jewish) media on the Internet and in print illustrates the complex issues of deadlines, exclusivity, paying and non-paying clients, and whether newspapers and Web sites are separate entities.

The lengthy Aug. 31 Jewish Week article by Elli Wohlgelernter (disclosure: Wohlgelernter is a former colleague and personal friend) concerns the recently completed inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League. It details a number of problems that occurred, including a potentially dangerous incident when a player was struck by a ball, a manager's mid-season departure, sub-standard playing and living conditions for the athletes, and lack of success in marketing the league to Hebrew-speaking Israelis. It also points out how English-speaking "Anglo-Israelis" embraced the project, and how most players enjoyed their experience, despite "bush league" conditions.

The way this story wound itself around the Web, and ruffled feathers of editors, is even more interesting. Wohlgelernter sold the story to four U.S. Jewish newspapers, including the LA Jewish Journal and NY Jewish Week. He worked a "local angle" into as many slightly differing versions as possible, by quoting Jewish and non-Jewish players from the newspapers' home towns.

He was clear up front, and told each paper they would not get an "exclusive." He also gave the story to the blog Tabloid Baby, because of his longstanding relationship with the blog's creator, Burt Kearns (one of the founding producers of the tabloid television business in the 1980s).

Due to an apparent miscommunication based on time zone differences (Wohlgelernter is in Israel, which is seven hours ahead of N.Y. and 10 hours ahead of Calif., where Tabloid Baby is based), the story first appeared on Tabloid Baby (TB) before running on any of the paying clients' sites.

In the way of the web, TB's posting began drawing fiery comments from Israel Baseball League supporters. Even Luke Ford (a rather controversial figure in blogging and Jewish media) linked to it. Ford is well known in L.A., where he once covered the porn industry.

A staff reporter and blogger for the L.A. Jewish Journal commented on the story and linked both to Ford and to TB. This happened before the Journal ran the story. In effect, the Jewish Journal's own blogger scooped the paper.

Later, TB published a PDF of the front page of the New Jersey Jewish News, another paying client, before NJJN posted the story online.

Rob Eshman, editor of the L.A. Jewish Journal and JewishJournal.com, was miffed, and told Wohlgelernter about it. Wohlgelernter brought the matter to my attention and asked me these questions -- which I am passing on to you, dear readers:

1. Is there a difference between a paying and non-paying customer for a freelance writer? Wohlgelernter says, for one thing, that TB's exposure of his story and previous mentions of his life in Israel have helped his career -- and therefore, have real financial value.

"In my mind," Wohlgelernter said, "there was no issue here whether Tabloid Baby was paying or not. Had he paid for it, Eshman would still have been miffed -- it made no difference. The honest mistake was that I had embargoed the story for TB until the papers that were running it in print had put their respective papers to bed. Kearns got mixed up with the time zones and thought the 5 p.m. embargo time was for the day before."

2. Should he have held off giving the story to TB until all the other paying clients had printed or posted it -- or both?

3. Is there any difference between print and the Web? Should the L.A. paper have waited to publish the story in print before posting online? The "classic" answer is yes -- why should people pay for a newspaper if they can read the articles online for free? However, does that "Web 1.0 answer" remain valid? The L.A. Jewish Journal might have benefitted more from Web traffic had it posted the story online first, since it might then have attracted links from TB, Luke Ford, and others.

"This does raise all sorts of questions, and I don't have the answers," Wohlgelernter said. "I was selling the story to weekly print newspapers, and even there there is a difference in their printing schedule. Should I have discussed and made a deal with all of them regarding online posting schedules? It never occurred to me. But maybe that's something to consider when selling a story to more than one outlet."

4. Does a newspaper which did not pay for an exclusive article have the right to complain when it gets "scooped"? TB's scoop was intended to be minutes ahead of the others -- not a full day, as occurred.

Many papers, not just small Jewish weeklies, are struggling with Web/print issues. This incident also poses the question of free v. paid for writers, as well. These issues will persist long after the last grass stains are washed from the knees of Israel Baseball League uniforms.

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