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.”
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:
“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.
Looks to me after watching the video on Mediaite (and reading here) that it was a your post on their site that they talked about on Fox. When people then went to the post your name was clearly visible. Is it just that they didn’t mention your name on Fox? Don’t see anything malicious here..
An interesting lesson learned. Frankly, I’m disappointed with the media organization in question. A former television producer, I’ve always believed attribution is fair play. However, your experience with Mediaite speaks to an altered media landscape where former codes of conduct can not be assumed. Thanks for the heads-up!
Boils down to
“Hey man, you didn’t credit me on Fox!”
“Sorry dude, kinda chumped it, eh?”
“Yeah man, that would’ve meant a lot to me, I worked hard on that list…”
“Let me make good, be sure you get prominent credit on the site so when people come read it, they’ll see it’s you.”
Done with nobody’s motives questioned, fair amount of blame taken, fair attempt to make good.
Christopher – not quite. Forgetting to cite my work on Fox is one thing. Claiming it as Mediaite’s original work on Fox is quite another.
I think it would be instructive to address “How to correct a reporter”. The reporter assumes the content is Mediaite’s. At first it appears that the subject simply does not correct the reporter, and my first impression was that he just played along to keep it simple.
Once down that path however, the reporter goes one step further in referring to “your” (Mediaite’s) content. In for a penny, in for a pound, he figures, and goes one step further, claiming the content as his own.
It’s like a children’s sitcom where a little lie spins into bigger and bigger ones. Let’s call it the “Saved By The Bell” phenomenon, where if you’re lucky, the interview will end before your lie is so huge, there’s no going back.
Put yourself in the position of an advisor to this subject. What is your advice? Assume his only limitation is that he can’t appear on Fox again to correct.
What should an interview subject do, when a reporter inserts a [positive] mis-perception into an interview/story?
And what should you do, if you find yourself in a “Saved By The Bell” interview? Pray it’s over quick before you dig yourself a deeper hole?
This is a great example, *slightly* different from the Al Gore “I invented the internet” situation.
I walk away from watching the interview with the belief that Colby Hall chose not to take numerous opportunities to correct the record.
“We’d done the list before that happened…” Pretty clear impression left that Mediaite had done the list.
In other contexts, Mr. Hall would be looking for a job.
The original content of a post is owned by the author and the site it was first published on, absent some other agreement. Anyone quoting that content should attribute the source and author. I agree that “Forgetting to cite my work on Fox is one thing. Claiming it as Mediaite’s original work on Fox is quite another.”
When Fox News called Mediate to see if they would do a segment on the list, Colby should have politely declined and directed them to the original author.
A bush league move by Mediate…
Brad pitched this story to us, asking us to consider posting it on Mediaite. We liked it and agreed to do so under his byline and with proper attribution. Brad even emailed me and thanked me for the great promotion.
As the editor of the site I often speak on behalf of stories by a variety of contributors to the site, just as Brad did a great job contributing with this piece. I was remiss in not citing Brad by name while doing the television spot, and had I the opportunity to do it again, I certainly would.
Colby, I appreciate the graciousness of your words here. I wish you were as polite in your phone call just now, when you accused me of, “using this as a promotional tool, which speaks to your character.”
Your remark dismisses the fact that I agonized over the right thing to do in this case. I spoke with you several times and carefully considered your point-of-view, consulted numerous respected peers in the PR world, and listened to feedback from other professionals, including a copyright attorney. The vast majority of people with whom I spoke shared my view that Mediaite crossed a line – a mistake you again minimized as “small” in our latest phone call.
As to my character, well, I’ll let other people come to their own conclusions.
I’ve never before engaged in a public back-and-forth with another website editor, and very much hope it doesn’t become a regular occurrence. You’re right that I’d like to promote this blog. But this sure isn’t the way I want to do it.
Thanks to Mediaite’s Colby Hall, we’re now one “media disaster” away from a dozen. Back 100 years ago in Journalism 101 my professor (and now IUP Journalism department chairman) Randy Jesick claimed that you don’t need a license to be a reporter. It’s certainly not an issue for most folks since the FCC imposed media deregulation. And, Mr. Hall is living proof. As for broadcast journalists Shepard Smith is a mensch, which still counts for something these days!
Colby Hall has done a great disservice to not only Brad Phillips and his work but also to Mediaite, Fox News, Shepherd Smith and his producer Jay Wallace and the readers of Mediaite (myself included).
A tangled web indeed.
The real “media disaster” here is in no way Brad Phillips’ behavior but Colby Hall’s simple and ongoing dishonesty.
Colby, take a lesson from Keith Olbermann’s latest and ongoing PR nightmare and, as Mediaite has said on the subject, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
Great case study.
Have you done a post on a Journalist’s view of ’15 minutes of fame’ yet? I have never seen such hyperventilating over a non-story.
One last thing. I noticed they you did not give any credit to the numerous YouTube Channels that you collected your videos from for your ‘Top Ten Media Disasters of 2010’ An oversight? You decide.
Anyone who posts material to YouTube has the option of allowing videos to be embedded onto other sites or not. ABC News, for example, doesn’t allow many of their videos to be embedded on other sites. Other news organizations generally permit embedded video onto blogs and websites. Remember also that the name of the original poster appears on the video page itself, and often on the video itself, an automatic attribution.
I have never been contacted by a copyright owner to take down any videos, nor do I have any reason to believe any content owners are unhappy with their use on this website. But as a person who has numerous copyrights, I’m quite sensitive to the concerns of other copyright owners. Should a copyright owner ever contact me, I will take their concerns seriously.
To Christopher Libby: PR 101 – Honesty is the best policy.
Shepard Smith: How did you come up with this list?
Colby Hall: There was certainly no shortage of media flubs this year. Brad Phillips of Mr. Media Training contributed this particular list to us, and we agree that these disasters take the cake.
Better yet, Mr. Hall could have prepared for that question and worked with Mr. Phillips in advance on a mutually agreeable and beneficial answer. How about:
Colby Hall: One of our contributors, Brad Phillips, developed the list by going through all the media disasters of the year and determining which ones had lasting negative career and/or personal impacts.
Colby Hall: Most people can recover from a single misstep in the media, but we worked with Brad Phillips of Mr. Media Training to pinpoint the ones that ruined careers or personal lives in 2010.
Colby Hall: Brad Phillips of Mr. Media Training came up with this list to provide an interesting glimpse of how a single public misstep can damage someone’s reputation and even ruin their career. There was no shortage of disasters to choose from, but we agree with Brad that these represent the worst of them.
I could go on all day…
Mediaite seems to make a business out of this. Colby Hall has shown by his response they could not care less about this in calling it small. No Colby it is big and if you had one ounce of dignity you would step down over this.
For the record, Brad selectively edited my initial email to him – the complete version is below. As you can see, I was, and still am, genuinely contrite over the matter and told him over the phone that I should have credited him on air and offered some recompense for my mistake.
My complete email as I sent Monday evening (which was selectively excerpted above):
Hey Brad –
I’ve done a couple of hits on Shep Smith and 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 completely understand why you’d be confused, if not upset by this – that said, it really was an honest oversight. Not sure how, but I would love to make it up to you somehow. The post on the site was clearly under your byline and had your bio at the end of the post.
Again, my sincerest apologies. We aim to always give proper credit and attribution and try to abide by a social contract that we’d be happy with if roles were reversed. That said, I can certainly understand why you’d be frustrated by how that taping went down.
Let me know how you want to move forward this. I’m open to chat any time.
Editor’s Note: An editor’s job is to “selectively edit,” and Mr. Hall does it on Mediaite for virtually every story. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s an important part of an editor’s job. I believe my edit was true to the spirit of his full email, but am happy to share the full email so readers can decide for themselves.
Editor’s Note: Tommy Christopher is a columnist for Mediaite, and a colleague of Colby Hall’s. Below is his unedited comment.
I completely understand you being pissed at not being mentioned on the air. It’s happened to me, although not with Colby. Once, Megyn Kelly actually had to point out to one of our editors that it was me asking a question at the White House. It wasn’t malicious, but I was pissed anyway. Recognition is hard to come by in this biz, and to see it slip by really sucks.
Your outrage, though, is over the absence of a generosity, not some breach of ethics. The fact is, you didn’t pitch this as something we could blog about, you contributed this story to Mediaite. You were properly credited, and even got to cross-promote your blog in your bio. I don’t get to do that.
You also unquestionably benefited from having your piece rebranded as a Mediaite story. While your name didn’t get mentioned on the air, the Fox spot drove lots of traffic to your story, your name, your bio. None of that happens without the Mediaite brand.
I’ve contributed stories to lots of websites, many of which originated on my personal website, but I understand that if I contribute a story to a website, it’s their story, and I am their contributor. I would definitely expect them to make every effort possible to recognize my contribution, but that would not include expecting them to rattle off details of our use of content agreement in mid-sentence.
If you had wanted some other arrangement, like a cross-post, or for Mediaite to simply blockquote a piece of it, you should’ve said so, but if you had, there would no doubt have been zero TV appearances to complain about.
Colby did not take your work, you contributed it. He did not claim it as his own, he correctly claimed it for the site to which you contributed it. Period.
If not for this post-story airing of overreaching character assassinations, this would have been a huge net positive for you, even without the mention. “Gee, it would’ve been nice if you’d said my name” was the response you were looking for, followed by “but thanks for putting my work in front of millions of eyeballs.”
For the record, I really liked the piece, and looked forward to more from you.
Mr. Hall – I’ve read your most recent comment as well of that of your colleague, Mr. Christopher. Although I disagree with most of what Mr. Christopher wrote, I’ll allow him this forum to express his views. Instead, I’d like to address this comment specifically to you.
You asked me on the phone yesterday what I wanted, and I’m not sure I gave you a complete answer.
I wanted two things. First, I wanted recognition from you that although I agreed to allow Mediaite to host my previously-published work on Mediaite, I didn’t give you permission to use it without attribution on any platform, at any time, under Mediaite’s name.
Second, I would have liked for you to have acknowledged that the lack of attribution on Fox was not the small mistake you claimed it was (simply forgetting to mention my name), but rather a larger error (that you answered Shepard Smith’s questions regarding how Mediaite put the study together – which it did not – in a manner that gave viewers the unmistakable impression that Mediaite did indeed conceive, write, and originally publish the work).
My impression is that you’re not prepared to offer full recognition on those two points, and for that, I am disappointed.
But it’s also clear to me that we’ve entered a cycle of accusations and counter-accusations that will continue until we both agree to take our feet off the gas. I’m prepared to end this disagreement and move on.
I accept that you genuinely thought you were acting in good faith and that you thought you weren’t over-reaching on our agreement. I’m willing to state explicitly that your character isn’t a factor in our dispute – just a strong difference of opinion.
In the spirit of the holidays, I’m willing to close this comment section after this post, but am willing to offer you an opportunity to provide a final reply if you’d like.
If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a joyful one tomorrow. If you don’t, I hope you enjoy some relaxing time with family and friends.