OFF THE GRID

Sound and Fury: Here’s What Sharon Waxman Really Wants

Apr 8, 10 | 8:42 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Sharon Waxman, who runs a website called the Wrap, which covers show business, continues to accuse Newser of various ethical sleights of hand with regard to the way we present the news and the way we occasionally cover the Wrap’s stories. Her claims are so exaggerated, and big lie-like, that, in my suspicion of anyone shouting about ethics in a crowded theater, it suddenly occurred to me to run a quick ethical search on her.

It is not only that a quick search shows her site doing even more blatantly and systematically what she accuses us of doing—taking a free-ride on other people’s content. There’s something else I turned up:

When Waxman was a reporter at the New York Times, she wrote an over-the-top laudatory article about how Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz was making aggressive investments in the entertainment business. Waxman and the Wrap, in surely the appearance of trading the Times’ positive coverage for personal gain, became one of Schultz’s investments.

Building businesses is hard. One might be inclined to take every advantage. Curiously, Waxman’s real issues with Newser are small ones: She wants, she says, an in-story link on several old summaries of Wrap stories where the in-story link (separate from two other links) was omitted; and she wants the word “Wrap” to be hot-linked on our source page. This could have been accomplished with a friendly email.

Except this isn’t what Waxman wants. What she wants is attention. To get that, she has had to maintain that we diabolically don’t link at all and that we nefariously steal her stories.

Fact No. 1: Every Newser story contains two automated links to the source, as part of the dateline on our homepage pop-up windows (e.g. SOURCE: Associated Press), and under a red box that says SOURCES right next to the story. Along with that, we cite the source and link to it in the text of nearly every story.

Fact No. 2: Our business is not news gathering, it is news curation and summarization. We do what Jim Romensko does at Poynter, or what is done at Arts & Letters Daily, or Daily Beast, or Slate, or on virtually every daily television news show, or what Cliff Notes does. Simply: We believe that summarizing adds value. And we believe it is ethical: We don’t take words; we don’t take expression; we don’t take photos or video; what we do is reduce to the facts and then add our own headlines, and licensed photos and videos to improve the ability to immediately understand a story.

Waxman, on the other hand, when she aggregates stories on the Wrap, takes exact words and headlines, with no more prominent links than ours, calling that more ethical. How weird is that?

In the cease and desist letter sent by her lawyers, Waxman relied on what’s called the hot news doctrine. (Waxman posted this letter, then, after I pointed out that she was, oddly, using a law firm in Cleveland, quickly blacked out our address and her lawyer’s area code. For the full letter with all information included see here. And for Newser's response, see here. This is a much-argued-over legal theory that says that certain breaking news facts—like sports results—can be protected from use by a direct competitor during the time in which those facts have not been widely distributed. Suffice it to say, the Wrap does not deal in such time-sensitive information. What’s more, the Wrap covers Hollywood, we cover general interest news. In any legal sense, we are not competitors.

The point is Waxman’s beef is trumped up. It is designed for huffing and puffing. It is self-promotion. In that it has succeeded: Waxman and I will be debating all this (if you can stand it) on Howard Kurtz's CNN show at 11am on Sunday morning.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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