Have you heard the one about Target finding out that a teenage girl was pregnant before her parents knew? If you have, it's probably because of Forbes columnist Kashmir Hill, the Kari Byron of the law blogging world.
The underlying story itself is pretty interesting, Target uses information about purchasing trends to identify what shoppers might be interested in. Start buying more skin lotion and vitamins, and there's a good chance you're pregnant. They'll then send you coupons for things expecting mothers want, but in this instance they were sent to a teenage girl, the father got pissed off, yelled at Target, and then later apologized upon finding out that his daughter was actually pregnant.
But, that creepiness in marketing aside, there's a whole meta layer to the story. The original story is from Charles Duhigg's upcoming book The Power of Habit, and the New York Times printed what is essentially a chapter excerpt (something fairly common for writers promoting their books). The NYT article was 6,800 words long, and Kash Hill zoned in on the really juicy bit about Target, and did a write up for her column with Forbes.
Then the shit hit the fan, with folks all over accusing Kash of stealing Duhigg's work.
It's pretty normal for blogs to rehash what other people have written. And, Kash did more than mere content farming, she inserted her own style, point of view, and commentary on the piece. So, what's the problem?
Kash's article on Forbes quickly drew well over 600,000 hits. That's a frackton of traffic, and some people thought that traffic rightfully belonged to Duhigg.
Blogger Joe Romenesko commented that this traffic is "a number that can literally make a writer’s career."
BL1Y's article 50 Ways to Bore, Irritate, or Confuse a Man has as had that many unique readers (not just page views), and it certainly didn't make his career. It didn't even make one month's student loan payment.
It's a bit more of an issue because Duhigg was using his article to promote his book, and if just 1% of that traffic was converted into book sales, well, that actually could have a significant impact on one's career.
Did Kash cheat Duhigg out of some book sales? Probably not. Had she just Tweeted, "here's an interesting article, be sure to check out the bit on Target," Duhigg may have sold an extra book or two. Kash has 6700 Twitter followers. A lot more than your average Joe, but not best-seller making numbers. On the other hand, her article picking up steam, with links back to Duhigg's original piece on the NYT, likely generated a great deal of traffic for him.
No one's thinking "I was going to read the NYT piece, but since I've already read the Forbes one I won't bother." Maybe people who hear about the story and Google it will land on Kash's article instead of the NYT, but the amount of link referral traffic Kash sent his way almost certainly offsets any amount he lost. Kash even had the decency of adding a link to his book on her article after the story and controversy blew up. (Kash is pretty nice, and we're betting she wasn't aware that it was being used as a book promo originally.)
So, again, what's the problem? It's not with what Kash did, but with the fact that journalism and blogging is filled with competitive, jealous, petty individuals, and those people know that harping on drama is a lot easier than coming up with intelligent, original ideas. Just look at how much time Fox News has spent talking about Jon Stewart talking about Fox News. How much of the media is devoted to attacking other parts of the media, and defending the media against such attacks?
Speaking of, no one seemed to care at all that Stephen Colbert reported on the story, mentioned once that the story came from the New York Times, didn't provide a link on his site, didn't mention Duhigg by name, and didn't mention his book.
Next week there'll be a new story though. New people will get credit and web traffic for it, and if you're still trying to cling to the accolades of getting one article with crazy traffic, or pissed off that someone else got the traffic instead of you, you're going to be left behind.
Remain calm, and blog on.