Friday, December 3, 2010

Should Journalists Credit Bloggers for Pilfering Their Content?

Update: The national media related blog Poynter has highlighted the story, Eats Beat in Fort Worth is happy to see FW BBQ so well represented, SideDish and Frontburner add some fuel and even St. Louis seems to care.

Update: We now have input from Pegasus News,, SideDish and possibly the most spirited outcry from There's been so much traffic questioning her tactics that Leslie Brenner decided to post an explanation that falls a bit short from giving this blog much credit.

Earlier Today: This week I was reminded of an old article I read about Bonnie Bell Island in Dallas' White Rock Lake. There's no actual island, but some internet mapping companies had added it as an intentional mistake to be able to sniff out copycats. I too was trying to sniff out some possible pilfering when I read a recent Dallas Morning News list of the 'Best Barbecue in DFW'. As I read each of DMN critic Leslie Brenner's entries, I noticed these were not the usual suspects that had normally received accolades from the local media in the past. By the time I'd reached the end of the list I realized this was incredibly similar the list I authored in D Magazine earlier this year. In fact, eight of the nine joints listed by Leslie Brenner were included in my top sixteen list. Given the overall lack of previous coverage in DMN given to most of these places it seemed like parts of my list had just been reused and called original content, so I wrote to Leslie Brenner for clarification. I was told that my list, among many others, was just a starting point, and that since I am merely a blogger that I may not be 'familiar with accepted journalistic practices'.

After reading the entries more closely I noticed an odd mistake in Brenner's write up on Bartley's Bar-B-Que where she mentions that they smoke with oak. I mention this in my article as well, but I learned during a later trip to Bartley's that I incorrectly reported that fact. They use all hickory and always have. While I didn't report their wood source as an intentional goof, it amounts to my Bonnie Bell Island, and Brenner simply copied that incorrect information directly into DMN's BBQ list. Maybe all the homework I had done on the local BBQ scene was used to draw Brenner's conclusions rather than the innocent starting point as she suggested in our correspondence.

Another puzzling item on the DMN list is the absence of Pecan Lodge and Smoke which both received three stars (a destination restaurant for this type of dining) from the Dallas Morning News review staff, with Pecan Lodge's rating coming just two weeks ago. How were they left off? Maybe more importantly, why wouldn't the News use the expertise of their own staff who form the Texas BBQ Posse? As a group, they have bothered to seek out new and interesting BBQ around the state and have written several articles about their exploits in the News. Wouldn't these true sojourners of smoked meat bring more credibility to such a list? I think so.

One positive from all of this that cannot be ignored is that the hard working pitmasters at each of these local joints are getting more much deserved recognition. That can always be applauded.

Of course this subject affects me personally which can cloud judgment, so tell me, am I being over sensitive, or is all my whining justified? Should bloggers be given credit by 'legitimate' media outlets if their content is used? Share your thoughts here or on the Dallas Observer's site where they asked the same question. I look forward to the discourse.

- BBQ Snob


smokemasterone said...

I think it shows an interesting contrast in standards. So much of the blogoshpere does consist of reposts and commentary. Many professional journalists seem to assume that everything found there is inherently less original and deserving of recognition than their work. It is exactly the kind of wild simplification that often earns their scorn.

Michelle said...

I love how these alleged 'real' journalists think the work a blogger does isn't journalism, but when push comes to shove, they have no problem reprinting the work as their own. Stuff like this, in my opinion anyway, reeks of Cooks Source magazine type stuff. I think your whining is more than justified and I don't blame you a bit.

Anonymous said...

I strongly support your position on this issue. Must be an act of desperation on her part for some unknown reason. Even with her plagiarizing your material, her article is obviously watered down & quite lame. Shame on her. Hopefully her employer will put an immediate halt on her job .....

Anonymous said...

Please see my comment on Dallas Observer article about the same subject. I have long suspected Brenner of taking the easy way out.
I.E. mirror articles with D Magazine daily blogs but 1/2 day later.....
Put her out to pasture.....

Peterk said...

"since I am merely a blogger that I may not be 'familiar with accepted journalistic practices'."

boy! talk about looking down your nose at someone. doesn't she realize that journalists are not highly regarded by the general public. That same public has questioned "the journalistic standards" and this questioning takes place on blogs all over the place.

Brenner should have stated up front that she used your list as a starting point, but her copying of your mistake shows that even she doesn't follow 'journalistic standards'

Plano Mark said...

I think you are legit!

And the DMN writer should have given you credit.

Anonymous said...

It's a common theme these days. Someone "finds" a place and then suddenly it's "discovered" by everyone else.

A notable example was when Teresa Gubbins first posted about Chapman Chile Kitchen. Over the next month many "journalistic" sources just "happened to be driving by" this obscure tiny place on a very obscure tiny street in a low traffic neighborhood and VOILA!! discovery occurred! Again and again.

Clearly Wilonsky hit it on the head, until DMN writes about it, it ain't news. Perhaps Brenner's out right crib of your source material indicates that the DMN no longer pays their "writers" mileage. They certainly don't pay bonuses for ethics.

Brown Bear Bob said...

A college freshman who's writing a term paper knows to credit sources, so a newspaper writer should.

Your island of evidence shows that Brenner is either lazy or more interested in self glorification than ethics — most likely both.

Blogs are often more reliable sources of information, and bloggers are more comfortable giving credit where credit is due. Meanwhile traditional media bathe themselves in the delusion that they are influential, even as their empire and their credibility crumble.

Joseph said...

Brenner is a low down piece of lying garbage. She reviewed the restaurant I work at, Bin 303, in rockwall and gave us a one star rating, the funny thing is, the first time she csme in she was a complete maniac and said only french wines are any good! Being from California herself that seems a little odd. Needless to say her review was less of a review and more of an attack on my bosses good name, oh and the snotty reply she gave you is classic Brenner, she thinks all Texans are redneck hicks, I promis you. Anways keep up the good work man, I personally think you have every right to be mad at Leslie Brenner. I'm gonna open up my own bbq joint someday and I can't wait to have you come review me!

Anonymous said...

Clearly a breach of ethical behavior and a surprisingly glib response from the DMN who obviously couldn't be bother to compare Brenner's "work" to your own.


Don O. said...

I think the answer lies at the bottom of the article which explains how they chose.

"The Best in DFW series presents critic's and staff picks and asks readers to chime in with their favorites."

I think they have covered their asses if they consider you a BBQ critic.

No matter. They still should have credited the "critics and staff" whose picks they present. That's my take.

As you say, some good joints get some well deserved press and hopefully some business that will help keep them around and cooking good things. Plus, you have to admit the DMN has done some good work promoting BBQ blogs over the last few years. I prefer to see it as the glass is half full, but the response by that writer is still pretty assinine.

Don't worry. Leslie will soon "only" be a blogger. too.

Anonymous said...

I would go on to question whether she even went to Bartley's at all.

Anonymous said...

Well, at first i thought you were being overly sensitive. I mean, the overlap in the top bbq choices must mean these places are really that good, and it makes me want to get out and try some of them. But there is no getting around the fact that she reported the same hickory/oak error in her recent article...the same error you originally made. I mean, wow. She tries to brush that error off like it is no big deal, but that right there really makes me question how much fact checking, research, and leg work she does on her own. After thinking about it all, i don't think you are overreacting at all.

dallasmediator said...

I pulled the article for future reading, and when I glanced it, the list sounded familiar -- yours.

This poor "restaurant critic" wannabe just reflects the mediocre, washed-up standards of the DMN. This rag has mastered the art of just publishing AP and other wires syndicated junk, and filling up its pages with not one original idea or original writing.

So this project of a journalist and self denominated restaurant critic just did what she sees done daily at work -- publish other people's work and call it a lazy day.

Newspapers continue to blame the Internet for their demise but apparently can realize that plagiarism and lazy writing is what has gotten them in the hole.

Shameful, and sad.

Doug Zedler said...

Looks like she corrected her error re: Bartley's wood. I wish I could say the same re: her journalistic practices. From the Brenner article:

"The thin-sliced brisket could have been moister and smokier, but the super-meaty, well-seasoned ribs, done over HICKORY with a lightly sweet glaze and deep, smoky flavor, were outstanding."

Doug Zedler said...

If you are going to publish a "best of" anything without identifying any sources, you better have tried a very large sampling of whatever it is you're reviewing. Hitting 20 joints to come up with a list of the 9 best in DFW does not pass muster. Would you trust a list of the 9 best works of American fiction if the author of the list had only read 20 books? She should have revealed her starting point.

And when she arrived at this particular list of 9 (assuming she did in fact visit all 9), she should have changed the angle of her piece to "Daniel Vaughn was right; these ARE the best in DFW."

3rd Degree Berns said...


Thought you'd find the enclosed story intriguing and relevant to your recent rift with DMN.

Our mainstream media rips off each other without crediting work as well. Perhaps its just part of the business in each party's effort to remain relevant. Keep up the solid and original work.


Doug Zedler said...

I just sent this to Brenner and two DMN editors:

Ms. Brenner,

You should have cited Daniel Vaughn and his D Magazine article or his Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog in compiling your Best Barbecue list. Producing a best-of list implies that you visited a very large sampling of what is available. Visiting 20 joints and picking 9 does not pass muster. The evidence suggests that you tried to gain unfairly from his legwork and downright lifted some of his writing. Your article would have been just as appealing to readers had you cited his D Magazine article or if you had even taken the angle of testing his picks, which incidentally I think would have made a great story.

Mr. Vaughn's picks for best BBQ in DFW were a revelation to most folks, including me. They were a far cry from the lists other publications, including yours, had been putting out. It was a list that could only have been compiled by years of work visiting hundreds of restaurants and writing his reflections on each in his blog. I think that deserves a "shout out," regardless of your publication medium. Your point that "it's natural that there turns out to be a lot of overlap" is invalid because other publications, including yours, ignored most of Mr. Vaughn's picks until his recent D Magazine article. It's only natural to have overlap with his list because you started with his list as your main point of reference. Your inclusion of other sources such as Texas Monthly and the Star-Telegram were peripheral as evidenced by the fact that 8 of your 9 picks were on Vaughn's list and most had not been mentioned or reviewed by those other sources, probably just a poor attempt at masking your reliance on one source. The "accepted journalistic practices" you speak of in your "Let's clear the smoke" blog entry (i.e. passing off someone else's opinion as your own) are what keep mediocre and past-their-prime BBQ joints in the best-of lists and staff's-favorite awards of DFW's newspapers year in and year out. In this case, you were just lucky enough to profit from the work of someone who knows what he's writing about and who takes the time to try joints that are ignored by local food critics.

Now that this has come to light, I'm afraid you have given yourself a bad name among quite a few folks in the Texas BBQ culture. I am not trying to get anyone in trouble, but I do not like to see someone like Mr. Vaughn, who has more than earned his reputation as a Texas BBQ connoisseur, disrespected. I recommend issuing a personal apology to Mr. Vaughn and printing a correction that states your heavy reliance on his work, not because it's an accepted journalistic practice but because it's the right and neighborly thing to do. Your blog entry falls way short of giving him his due. You use the oak/hickory error as a red herring. It was only one of the reasons to suspect that you had pilfered his work. The "How we choose" section of your article would have been the perfect place to cite his writing or, if you prefer, all the sources you used to compile the meager list of joints that you decided to actually visit. Instead you chose to take credit for his work by saying the list "presents critics' and staff picks and asks readers to chime in with their favorites." That is what we in Texas politely refer to as [expletive withheld].

Doug Zedler

Steve Hall said...

The fact that the same error you made in your original article (emphasis added for the point that bloggers are journalists, too) also appeared in the DMN's article is, to me, prima facie evidence not of failing to attribute a source, but, in fact, PLAGIARISM.

At the newspaper where I was human resources manager, that was an offense that would get a writer fired.

John Painter Jr. said...

As a onetime restaurant reviewer for a large West Coast daily far from the great state of Texas, I NEVER wrote about a restaurant without visiting it twice.

And it was unthinkable to "lift" or rewrite some other critic's work and pass it off as mine. I didn't even do roundups that weren't based on my personal experience.

On my paper, you'd get fired for that. Maybe the DMN has different standards.

And about bloggers. By and large, they aren't legit journos. They spout opinion often supported by flimsy or fabricated facts. They don't do it as a full-time occupation, but rather as an off-again/on-again discourse not subject to any editorial regulation.

If you truly want to get after that DMN critic, check out the last two years of her reviews to see if she regularly pilfers material without crediting the source.

RL Reeves Jr said...

Austin's #1 food blog's coverage of the dustup.

RL Reeves Jr.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.