No Respect, No Respect At All

Categories: News

I got hold of this e-mail exchange between the Daily Business Review's law editor, Harris Meyer, and Tim Jones, the national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. It concerns the Jeffrey Dahmer/Adam Walsh story that was initially broken by DBR last month and finally, by a circuitous route, went national this week.

It deals with the age-old question of newspapers' citing other newspapers' work when they, um, borrow it. In this case, Jones, while following the Dahmer/Walsh story, clearly took information from the original Daily Business Review article. But he didn't cite the newspaper. Instead he only mentioned the freelance author of the article, Arthur Jay Harris, and referenced his supposed "soon-to-be-published book."

This apparently rankled Meyer -- and below is the fun that ensued between the two journos: ---------------------------------------------------
From: Harris Meyer [mailto:hmeyer@alm.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 9:06 AM
To: Jones, Tim
Subject: Dahmer story

Tim, I think our newspaper deserved a credit for this. We broke this story in December.

Harris Meyer
Law Editor
Daily Business Review

--------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jones, Tim [mailto:TmJones@tribune.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 10:50 AM
To: Harris Meyer
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Hello Harris,
I read that piece yesterday. Does Arthur Jay Harris work for you guys?


----------------------------------------------------------
From: Harris Meyer [mailto:hmeyer@alm.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 9:53 AM
To: Jones, Tim
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Nope, he freelanced it to us, and we did an enormous amount of work on it. I believe it also ran on ALM's web site, law.com, soon after we published it.

Harris Meyer
Law Editor
Daily Business Review


--------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jones, Tim [mailto:TmJones@tribune.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 11:02 AM
To: Harris Meyer
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

I appreciate that. But the byline is Arthur Jay Harris and there's no mention of your paper doing any work on this, other than publishing the piece he wrote.

---------------------------------------------------
From: Harris Meyer [mailto:hmeyer@alm.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 10:05 AM
To: Jones, Tim
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Tim, trust me, David Lyons ... worked with Harris for weeks and weeks on that. No other publication Harris approached wanted it. We were the only ones.

Harris Meyer
Law Editor
Daily Business Review


--------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jones, Tim [mailto:TmJones@tribune.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 11:14 AM
To: Harris Meyer
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Harris, this is not a matter of trust. What you have here is a story that was shopped around, presumably to the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald, and they said no. You guys said yes ... The fact that Arthur Harris, the author of the book, wrote this and shopped it does not suggest to me that you guys broke

it. I'm not dismissing the efforts your editor made to put this in shape, but when I read a piece by a book author, published in a newspaper that he doesn't work for, I'm hard pressed to conclude that the paper that published the story broke it.



----------------------------------------------------------
From: Harris Meyer [mailto:hmeyer@alm.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 10:22 AM
To: Jones, Tim
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Tim, your argument is astonishing. Are you saying that other media organizations are not obligated to credit publications for stories that were written by freelancers? What about when Vanity Fair publishes a news-breaking piece by a freelancer? You don't have to credit Vanity Fair? What about when the New York Times does (including its Sunday magazine)? That argument just doesn't wash.

In addition, no reputable publication would have run with the story as Harris first submitted it. We were heavily responsible for the quality of the reporting and writing in the final published version of the story.

On top of that, Harris' book has not been published, he's trying to get it published.

Harris Meyer
Law Editor
Daily Business Review

---------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jones, Tim [mailto:TmJones@tribune.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 11:32 AM
To: Harris Meyer
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

I think there is a pretty clear difference between claiming credit for publishing a story and breaking a story.


----------------------------------------------------------
From: Harris Meyer [mailto:hmeyer@alm.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 10:40 AM
To: Jones, Tim
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Tim, Tim, Tim, you're splitting hairs. I'm disappointed in you. If I were you, I would definitely have credited us. We have an explicit policy on this issue to give credit to other publications in such situations. Given the numerous ethics scandals in journalism in recent years focusing on lack of honesty, I would think you and your publication would be sensitive to the obligation to credit other publications when you follow up on their story. It appeared in our publication regardless of whether Harris is a freelancer or not (you didn't address my point about Vanity Fair and the New York Times magazine, which also break stories with freelancers and receive credit for that). We devoted a lot of time and resources to that story. Harris used the DBR story to promote his research and his book and convince other journalists to follow up.

Your position is weak.

Harris Meyer
Law Editor
Daily Business Review


-------------------------------------------------------------
From: Jones, Tim [mailto:TmJones@tribune.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 12:24 PM
To: Harris Meyer
Subject: RE: Dahmer story

Dear Harris,

I'm not interested in elevating this discussion to the lofty status of journalistic scandal, certainly not based on a 10-paragraph item inside the paper. With more space there might have been a mention in the story that your paper published the Harris piece two months ago. With additional space we might also have mentioned that the piece was turned down by other publications. Our interest was getting the news to our readers about what might be a new development that could lead to solving the Adam Walsh murder. I'm sorry that you're offended.

Sincerely,

Tim Jones
National Correspondent
Chicago Tribune
435 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
---------------------------------------------------------------

Well, it's an interesting debate, to say the least. The key line in the exchange, I think, comes from Jones: "[W]hen I read a piece by a book author, published in a newspaper that he doesn't work for, I'm hard pressed to conclude that the paper that published the story broke it."

Say what? That's some strained reasoning, to say the least. Some, though, might think Meyer is being a bit of a nudge for pushing the issue. Maybe so, but anybody who works for a small, kick-ass publication that breaks news and doesn't get credit for it has walked in those shoes before.

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