Media columnist Jim Romenesko—who was scheduled to depart his full-time position at the Poynter Institute at the end of the year, anyway—vacated it abruptly yesterday after his boss, Julie Moos, publicly criticized his “incomplete” methods of attributing other journalists’ copy in his summaries of their work.
For those who haven’t followed the story—and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, because it’s so inside baseball it’s inside the laces of the ball—Romenesko has been writing a Web-based cheat sheet about the news business since 1999. The column, which the non-profit Poynter Institute picked up in 2000, has been an indispensable destination for journalists and civilians interested in the media. (Interests declared: Romenesko has cited my work many times since 1999. For the last 10 weeks, Poynter has been paying me to participate in weekly, hour-long Web chats with readers.)
In declaring a “pattern of incomplete attribution,” Moos pointed to a recent example from Romenesko’s work in which he ran whole sentences from a Chicago Tribune story in his summary of it without placing the words in quotation marks or block quotation to indicate its exact provenance.
Romenesko’s style was not Poynter’s style, Moos wrote, commenting that, “One danger of this practice is that the words may appear to belong to Jim when they in fact belong to another.”
Like Moos, I think that Romenesko should have placed in quotation marks (or block quotations) copy taken from stories he summarized. When I’ve worked as an editor, that has been my standard. As a writer, I follow the same code. If anything, I overdo the quotation-marks thing. You’re free to criticize the windy way Moos explains Poynter’s policy and its inquiry, but as the editor she’s well within her rights to set attribution rules.