I Report, Mediaite Takes, You Decide

This post is unprecedented. But since this is a media training blog, I decided to use my own media relations disaster story as a case study.

Earlier this morning, I released the Top Ten Media Disasters of 2010, my big year-end wrap up of the the worst media gaffes committed by spokespersons this year. I placed the story on a national wire, sent it to my network on Facebook and Twitter, and pitched it to a couple of larger websites.

One of those website was Mediaite, a fast-growing website started by NBC News alum Dan Abrams that boasted two million unique visitors last month. Colby Hall, the Managing Editor of Mediaite, expressed interest in the story, and we agreed that I would allow Mediaite to copy the story onto their own platform, with full attribution to the Mr. Media Training Blog.

Everything was running smoothly until I did a Google search to see the day’s coverage.

To my surprise, Mr. Hall appeared on Shepard Smith’s Fox News Channel program this afternoon to discuss my story. The video of his appearance is here. I was disappointed to see that Fox News had fonted the segment, “Mediaite.com Releases List of 10 Worst Media Disasters,” but gave them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know the story’s origin.

But then, to my even greater surprise, Mr. Hall claimed the story as his own. Here’s a portion of the transcript:

Shepard Smith: “How did you pick these?”
Colby Hall: “Uhh, well, there was no shortage of choices. Turns out people said a lot of stupid things in the past year, and the confluence of cable TV and the Internet, we cover every base, so there was no shortage of choices, but we have a lot to choose from.”
Shepard Smith: “Your number five one, this isn’t actually on your site, this isn’t on your website. You picked for us the President giving up the podium for former President Clinton. Why’d you pick that for us and not for your website?”
Colby Hall: “Well, we had done the list before that happened.”

Colby Hall

Colby Hall During a Previous Fox Appearance

Mr. Hall’s segment ran five minutes. Not once did he – or Fox News – credit this blog. Nor did he – or anyone at Mediaite – have anything to do with choosing the clips in my original story. 

I e-mailed him this evening to ask what happened. Below is an excerpt of his response:

“…their producers saw your post and asked to have me speak about it. I had every intention to credit you properly but it was live, and I’m pretty much a novice on TV and I totally spaced. Not an excuse – I just didn’t do it because, well…my mind was racing….I can certainly understand why you’d be frustrated by how that taping went down.”

Sounds reasonable. But then I went back to Mediaite, and saw this story, posted on Mediaite today at 5:34pm. It reads:

Mediaite Claiming Story As Its Own

“Earlier today, Mediaite Managing Editor Colby Hall appeared on Fox News’ Studio B with Shepard Smith to discuss Mediaite’s Ten Worst Media Disasters of 2010, and after running down the titular list, Smith gave a boost to the site’s street cred. Not only did Smith correctly pronounce the name of our site (unlike Rush Limbaugh), but went on to observe “It’s not like you guys are always wonderful to us, but I always enjoy reading it.”
Reality isn’t always wonderful to them, either, but it is to Fox News’ credit that they aren’t afraid to acknowledge criticism, and still engage with the source of it. Here’s Colby Hall’s appearance on Studio B (from Fox News): (you can read Mediaite’s Ten Worst Media Disasters of 2010 here)

So where did Fox News get the idea that this was Mediaite’s work? Well, from Mediaite itself, which completely eliminated the Mr. Media Training attribution in the follow-up story and claimed it as its own – twice.

UPDATE, 10:50pm: I just spoke with Mr. Hall for half an hour. We have a disagreement regarding the word “re-purpose.” From his perspective, re-purpose meant that my work became a “Mediaite” story. I’ve never heard that from any of the dozens of websites I’ve successfully worked with before. From my perspective, my work remains my intellectual property, requiring attribution on every use.

UPDATE: December 21, 5:59am: I just went back and looked at the original e-mails between me and Mr. Hall. Here are his two e-mails to me, unedited, seeking permission to use my work:
Monday, December 20, 8:02am:

Hi Brad — this is great.
Would you be open to us repurposing this entire post under your byline?
Let me know,

I agreed. At 8:18am, he wrote back, saying:

sure – do you have a bio that I can add to the end?
To be clear, I’d love to repost the entire feature (which is really well done and comprehensive.)

Again, I agreed to allow that.

His first e-mail indicated that repurposing would occur under my byline. The second makes clear that I agreed to allow him to “repost” — not to allow him to take the story and claim it as Mediaite’s original work on a nationally broadcast television news program.

These e-mails may be subject to interpretation, but it seems to me that Mediaite’s use of my material went beyond the agreement we forged.

UPDATE: December 22, 2010, 8:42am: I received an e-mail blast from Mediaite yesterday afternoon, long after my conversation with Mr. Hall. In the tease to one of its stories, Mediaite once again promoted “their” top ten disasters list. That represents the third time in two days that Mediaite used my work without the promised attribution.

Our agreement together called for attribution of my work. I remain disturbed that he used my work, unattributed, to promote his own brand on the Fox News Channel.

I don’t know if I’ll allow Mediaite to use my material in the future. In the meantime, I’d caution other writers to explicitly define the terms of their agreement with Mediaite before proceeding together.

December 22, 2010: 3:35pm: Thank you to the Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith, who graciously offered an on-air correction this afternoon. Below are his remarks:

“Couple of days ago, we had a segment that aired here on Studio B that listed the top ten media disasters of 2010. Our guest of that day was the Mediaite.com managing editor, Colby Hall. And as we reported, the media disaster list was published on the Mediaite website. What was not reported was that the original source of the content wasn’t Mediaite. Frankly, because I didn’t know that. That was courtesy of Mr. Media Training blog. So there we go. Cleared up.”

That Mr. Smith took time to issue that comment on a busy news day is even more impressive, and speaks to his commitment to accuracy. I offer my sincerest thanks to Mr. Smith and his executive producer, Jay Wallace.

UPDATE: December 22, 2010, 6:17pm: Here’s the write-up of the incident from the New York Observer.