This week, the Twitterverse has been abuzz with comments about Gram magazine, a new free food-based street publication (like Beat). The tweets that I read were mainly from disgruntled bloggers wondering if it was legal or ethical for a magazine to lift and extensively quote bloggers' content, with only an opt-out policy. I'd never received any email from Gram magazine, and so naively thought my content hadn't been lifted. But, today, out of curiosity, I had a look over at their website. I was wrong.
To illustrate how crap this is, let me tell you a story.
My year 12 economics teacher, Mr. G, taught me a trick for writing uni essays, which he said would work for any type of long arts essay. I never used it, so I don't know if it works in practice, but you could always give it a go.
1. You take the topic... (here's an example topic, from a cinema studies essay I wrote in 2004).
Kenneth MacKinnon argues that “it is the fervency of the belief in […] utopia, together with the poignancy of its unattainability, that resonates in the experience of the musical's devotees. How does Dancer in the Dark engage with this convention?
2. Then find as many articles as you can on the topic. For the above example I'd obviously start with Kenneth MacKinnon's article, then anything on Dancer in the Dark, and "utopia" and "musicals" more generally.
3. Cut and paste quotes from all the articles you've found into a word document, arranging them in some sort of coherent fashion (making sure you attribute the quotes accurately), until you've reached your word count.
4. Print out and hand in.
But wait... how could that work? Isn't that just plain dodgy? According to Mr. G, "they can't get you for plagiarism", and "if your quotes have answered the question, they have to pass you". In other words, you might get a crap mark, but at least you'll pass and you won't have exerted any unnecessary effort.
And this is the dodgy and lazy approach that our friends over at Gram magazine have taken, swiping content from Melbourne bloggers, and lazily slapping them together to create a "magazine" (online and in print), to generate advertising revenue for themselves. To show you how it works, here is how they used my content... (Please note that I am quoting them to illustrate a point, not to make up the content of my post, an important distinction.)
"Impressed by the selections offered at St Kilda’s Mockingbird, Sarah @ Sarah Cooks noted the cocktail list featured classics as well as “some signature cocktails”, like the lychee and passionfruit martini, the caramel, and “fabulous” espresso martini. Tasting plates are available. Sarah had the mozzarella and herb arancini, the beer-battered Moreton Bay bug tails with caper mayonnaise and the half-roasted chicken on truffled polenta, amongst other things…"
What terribly lazy writing! They haven't added any new ideas to my post, just regurgitated what I wrote in August last year, in an attempt to pass it off as a genuine article.
Another Outspoken Female has written 2 excellent posts about Gram - the first one back in November when she got an introductory email from them, and one last week after she saw a paper copy and realised her posts were "quoted" in Gram. I'd suggest reading her posts to get an overview of the whole situation. In fact, that is what I had to do, as I have never been directly contacted by Gram, and I had no idea what they were about.
Let me re-iterate:
I have never been contacted by Gram. They never asked permission, or even informed me that they would be using my content in their magazine.
According to the introductory email that AOF re-printed on her blog, (that I never received)...
featured bloggers will probably notice a marked increase in traffic to their sites, expanding the potential for those already advertising to capitalise on their work, and creating opportunities for those that yet don’t (through options like Google AdSense, Nuffnang and Foodbuzz).
Firstly, not every blogger cares about how many hits they get. I blog because I enjoy it, because I love cooking, eating, taking pictures and writing. I happily run Nuffnang ads on my blog, but they're not the main reason I blog. Any small advertising revenue I get is just a bonus, not the be-all and end-all of blogging. I don't spend hours doing SEO, and I'm not going to be grateful that someone's lifted my content without my permission so that I can get a few extra hits. And besides, I've only had one hit from Gram, which was actually me, trying to see if their links worked. Big whoop.
Whatever your opinion on the commercialisation of blogs, and of sites like Foodbuzz and Urbanspoon, I'm sure we can all agree that bloggers should choose whether or not they want to join, and not automatically be included without being asked or informed.
editorial policy ensures any authors who choose not to be included, for whatever reason, are respected, and won’t be featured.
Clearly that respect wasn't extended to me. I never even had a chance to opt out, as I never received an email from Gram informing me they'd be lifting my content.
At worst, it's plagiarism, and at best, it's very sloppy and unethical "journalism". Tellingly, the only contact in the "Contact Us" section on the website states: "For sales and advertising, please contact our Production Director".
They call it "Melbourne Food Culture. Compiled."
I call it "Melbourne Food Bloggers' Content. Stolen."
31/01/2011 EDIT: As I mentioned above, today I received a lengthy email from the production director of Gram, in response to this post. She apologised for the oversight and explained what Gram is about. I do believe she was being genuine, and appreciate the time and thought she put into her personalised response. For what it's worth, I think Gram has some good ideas, but extremely poor execution, and a misunderstanding of how bloggers operate. (If you've seen Ed's blog, you may have seen a copy of the group email she later sent out, or indeed, received the email yourself, which explains their aims). I get the impression that Gram is based on the idea that food bloggers are a homogeneous group, rather than the varied individuals that we are. I'm sure there are bloggers who'd love to get on board, others who would never consider it, and anything in between. In fact, had I been contacted individually months ago and had the Gram agenda explained to me clearly, I may very well have chosen to get on board. But now we'll never know.
Cheers for reading. Soon Sarah Cooks will return to its usual programming...