Content Curation and Why Ethics Matter

David Carr, a prominent journalist for The New York Times, reported at SXSW this past week about a new standard for attribution aimed specifically at web content publishers called the Curators Code. At best it’s a complete game changer, but in all likelihood will stand as just another cute example of good intent left to run amuck. Nonetheless, it’s a meaningful step in the right direction; and while the discussion of the implications of a universally accepted norm for web journalism is certainly compelling (and for the record I’m still skeptical that the Curators Code is the exact answer to the problem), I do inevitably agree that it’s high time for writers of all sorts to cut the BS and start giving credit where credit is due. Although Carr spoke in a context aimed specifically at a growing guild of new media journalists, the topic of what curation is and what it means to the future of the web should still prove to be painfully relevant for those who create content on a regular basis.

It doesn’t take much effort to realize that dirty curation and outright plagiarism has become rampant. Untied to the prestige of journalistic integrity or a big name media outlet, there’s a large number of internet marketers (SEO and social media practitioners included), who regularly opt to take unethical shortcuts in the pursuit of traffic.

Content scraping = theft

One trick that’s been widely used is the concept of scraping, which in simple terms is the act of taking an article and more or less reproducing it in hopes of a generating a quick and easy piece of content. Content farms have been busted in the past for using computer programs to automate this process, however doing so manually can also be considered as equally unethical. It’s not as detectable or dubious as an outright copy and paste, however in terms of sleaziness it’s mighty close.

Not giving credit = theft

There’s a smart way and a careless way to aggregate information. Using an original source for reference and choosing not to link to it demonstrates bad taste. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Pulitzer winning reporter, or a kid with a WordPress blog, if any person has spent the time and effort to create original material and you decide to use it without giving credit, you’re a thief and a coward. There isn’t much grey area and little excuse for not abiding by the common standards of attribution.

Some rules to live by

1. Be generous when citing sources.
2. Always give credit to original material in the form of a link
3. Stay conscious of copyright and trademark law
4. Accuracy, honesty, and getting it right the first time are all still a big deal
5. Theft is theft. If you’re in doubt, don’t do it.

Image credit: Thomas Forsyth 

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