The chairman of the National Association of Press Agencies has said that freelance journalists should boycott the independent after a dispute over payment for a court story.
The Independent told freelance Glyn Bellis “there is no copyright in news” after it used a court report he filed for Wales Online as the basis for one of its stories. Although The Independent story was based entirely on material provided by Bellis, it did include a credit and link to Wales Online.
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Jon Harris, who runs Cavendish Press, said: “The reality is freelance and agency journalists have to live off their wits every day.
“They don’t get the benefit of advertising or license fee payers cash like newspapers, broadcasters and websites and more often than not will work long hours on a speculative basis to find those big and highly relevant stories that bring a daily newslist to life. For them getting paid and scratching a living relies purely on them finding those stories and getting them published.
“Journalists are of course entitled to follow up news stories filed by others but as long as they do their own work on it such as getting extra background, extra quotes and extra pictures. Bashing the original version around a bit doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.
“Lifting court copy wholesale is not only irresponsible journalism but unethical and should have no place in today’s post-Leveson newsgathering operations.
“The Independent is simply preying on the good nature of journalists working at the coalface on a speculative basis so they can steal content and improve their own figures to justify charging more for advertising. It’s quite obscene.’’
Other digital publications, such as Mail online, have been accused in the past of lifting content from rival sites. When this was put to him, Harris said that while The Independent is not the only offender, he said that he has always found Mail Online to be “very professional”.
He said: “Since the story emerged about Bellis News Agency other NAPA members have come forward to tell of similar experiences with the Independent.
“Many no longer file to them due to their refusal to pay whilst another has even cancelled his subscription to the publication because of its attitude towards freelancers. I hope many others will follow his example.’’
In its statement to Press Gazette, The Independent said: “We based our report – written in our own words – on material previously published on the Wales Online website, as our piece made clear (with a link back to the Wales Online piece). There is no copyright in news and we have not acted improperly.
“The suggestion that our position is connected with our status as a digital publisher is plainly without foundation. We are proud of our standards and of the progress which saw the Independent reach an average 6,577,317 unique browsers daily in May.”