Some days the editors at Spacing have to think about things other than urban planning, graffiti or cycling infrastructure. Sometimes it’s our website server acting up, and other times it’s about figuring out how a button order has gone missing. Last week, we had to deal with theft.
Luckily, we didn’t have our office broken into (that was the week before) — we had one of our Spacing Wire posts lifted and re-printed in the National Post without permission. Associate editor Shawn Micallef wrote on our blog on June 28th about his personal experiences travelling through the city during World Cup celebrations or defeats, as well as the violence Toronto police were dealing with after each match. As we expected, the post generated a lot of comments, both for and against Shawn’s point-of-view — whenever ethnicity and culture are critiqued in any kind of way, people’s emotions can be easily enflamed.
So it was rather surprising to walk by a National Post newspaper box the next day and see a teaser on the front page of the paper that used very similar language (graphic below) to Shawn’s Spacing Wire post (“Is it cute multiculturalism or scary hooliganism?”)
It was even more shocking to flip to page A9 and see Shawn’s post re-printed on the front of the Toronto section under the feature name “Urban Scrawl.” The text that appeared in the National Post was only 60% of the original post, but it included a byline, a “commentary” tagline, and the text “National Post” at the bottom of the column. There was also bolded text that read: “The full version of this article appeared on spacingtoronto.ca/ yesterday.”
This may come as a surprise to many of you, but the National Post is actually one of the leaders when it comes to covering commentary found in the blogsphere. It may be because they cannot afford to add staff, but that’s not really an issue for us to discuss. If, for example, the National Post had written their own piece on fans’ reactions to World Cup victories and quoted Shawn’s post, all would be okay in our world. But instead, they lifted the piece, edited out parts that they wished removed, and gave Shawn a byline — all without our permission. It seems the “©2006 Spacing Publications” at the bottom of every page on this website does not hold much weight.
What concerned us was how official this all looked when it appeared in the paper. The common reader would probably assume that Shawn gave permission and agreed to the edits. With the “throw” at the end of the article, a reader could assume that Spacing has some kind of relationship with the National Post.
Another issue we had was context. How a piece focused on the sensitive topic of culture and ethnicity could be treated so lightly is beyond us. A piece like this deserves to be printed in its entirety (not just 60%) so that the author’s arguments can been fully realized. Shawn had originally quoted text from John Barber, a Globe and Mail columnist and a National Post competitor. The quotes from Barber played an integral role in shaping Shawn’s Spacing Wire post. But the National Post removed Barber’s words which dramatically warped Shawn’s point-of-view. To add a bit of intrigue to the situation, Shawn is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail and has consciously decided not to have anything to do with the National Post. (Shawn
said joked that he was just as offended to have appeared on the same page as the SUV-loving, cycling-hating Jacob Richler).
We contacted the National Post and began to work things out. The Toronto editor was apologetic and said it was part of an “experiment” where the Post was using the blog world as a news source. We talked to our media lawyer (luckily, she writes for us too) and were encouraged to hear that we were in a good position to demand a few things. We asked that Shawn be paid more than what he would have received if he was commissioned to write the piece. We also asked for an apology that would appear on page A2 of the paper. Both requests were granted and today the Post published their apology:
Now is a good time to point out that we are not trying to do a rip-job on the Post. In fact, the whole process was quite collegial and was taken care of in a very quick manner. Lawyers did not have to call other lawyers, and we did not call each other bad names or raise our voices.
In fact, we are quite complimentary to the Post when it comes to blogs. They have taken a real interest in the opinions being shared in the new media world and are willing to report on it. It is safe to say that Spacing does not share the same political views as the Post, but we are often quoted in the Toronto section of the paper. And I do not think the re-printing was an overt attempt to steal something from us, but at the same time we need to defend ourselves. Shawn said it best in his letter to the Post editors: “Nobody at Spacing gets paid to do the Wire. We have no ads, no revenue model — all we have is our intellectual property, and we have to protect it and then make sure that when it’s stolen things are made right.”