Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Napa protests to PA over 'lifted' agency interview

The National Association of Press Agencies, which represents the UK's independent news agencies, has protested to Press Association editor Jonathan Grun, claiming PA has lifted an exclusive interview by one of its members with the father of murdered Jo Yeates.

Meanwhile, the Napa member, the Solent News and Photo agency, said it is consulting lawyers with a view to taking legal action against PA for breach of copyright.

On December 28 the agency carried out what it says was an exclusive interview with David Yeates, father of Jo Yeates, at his home in Hampshire. The agency distributed the story to a number of selected publications including the Southern Daily Echo, with whom it has a close relationship.

Solent says shortly after it had filed, staff noticed that it was being reproduced, word for word, on the Daily Mirror website. "The story featured each and every one of the agency quotes, but said Mr Yeates had 'told the Southern Daily Echo'," Solent says

David Holt of Solent said: "This wasn't a case of someone 'nicking a couple of grab quotes'. It was a wholesale lift - they had filed 237 words, the Mirror piece was 241 words long. Once you removed the phrase 'told the Southern Daily Echo,' there was a single word of difference between the two."

He discovered the piece had been sent out by the Press Association, under the byline Rod Minchin.

Solent telephoned PA and spoke to news editor Beverley Rouse. During their first conversation they explained that Mr Yeates had not told the Southern Daily Echo anything. He had in fact spoken to Solent and the material on the Echo website was copyright of Solent.

Solent asked PA to recall the story, as it did not belong to them and was in breach of their copyright.

The agency said Ms Rouse told them she would call back, which she did 10 minutes later. The first thing she said was "my editor says there is no copyright on news."

Holt said: "This was a fatuous argument. Of course, there is no copyright restraint on following up news stories - but original work, which being an exclusive interview this clearly was, is covered absolutely by the Copyright Act. There are no grey areas."

Solent again asked Ms Rouse to recall the story, as it belonged to them. She said: "What we're prepared to do is attribute the quotes to you."

Solent said it was still unhappy and wanted the story withdrawn.

It asked Ms Rouse how she had obtained the interview and said she replied, "We saw it on Sky and we went looking for it. We found it on the Southern Daily Echo website and we put it out."

Holt added: "So that's how journalism works for PA, the national press agency. This is how journalism works for Solent: Since Ms Yeates went missing we have had a team of reporters working on the story every day.

"It has been difficult to cover; terribly moving and upsetting. Four of our staff have had first-hand contact with Mr and Mrs Yeates over the past week. They worked right through Christmas and our reporters were visibly upset when news came through that a body had been found.

"So to find our original work running, without license, on numerous newspaper websites as far afield as Lancashire and Belfast, was galling. The Press Association charge a subscription rate to these newspapers, so have simply sold the work without permission."

Solent's lawyers are writing to PA asking for payment for the copy and damages for the breach of copyright on the grounds they did not have permission to publish Solent's content content and yet still went ahead despite numerous requests to recall the story.

In Napa's formal letter of protest to Grun, Napa treasurer Chris Johnson said: "A complaint has been raised by a member of the National Association of Press Agencies that calls into question the integrity of Press Association in its dealings with freelance journalists in the UK.

"I need hardly remind you that the days when the network of freelances in the UK enjoyed a healthy working relationship with PA are a fading memory.

"However, the case in point appears to mark a new low in the operation of PA and it is for this reason that I am writing to register a protest in the strongest possible terms on behalf of NAPA and its members."

Shortly after Napa had sent its letter to PA, Solent claimed the same thing had been repeated.

On December 30 Solent filed another exclusive interview with the parents of Jo Yeates, commenting mainly on the arrest of suspect Chris Jefferies.

Again it was posted on the Southern Evening Echo's website and again within minutes it was being reproduced in its entirety by PA, Solent claims.

According to MediaGuardian's Josh Halliday on Twitter, Jonathan Grun, editor of PA, has responded to Napa's claims by stating: "[PA] has at all time acted in good faith in our reporting of this story."


Anonymous said...

Hi Jon,

Interesting situation but this was bound to happen to be honest.

Most newspapers in the UK - both local and national - never bother to attribute anything to news agencies, whether it's PA, Solent or anyone else.

Instead, they give the impression that agency copy is their own, without so much as a "with agencies" after a staff byline. (I suspect this might have something to do with the fact that they would have to credit agencies for just about every other story, so giving the accountants upstairs a further excuse to cut costs by axing a few more staff posts.)

So, PA picked up The Echo story, attributed it to them and it was picked up by subscribers. Solent now cries foul at PA - its competitor - but doesn't criticise The Echo, where there's also no mention of Solent in its story. You can see how this might have happened.

Also, what about the judgment call as a news agency reporter on a big story? You see the article and know that everyone else has, too. Do you a) write a pick-up attributing it to the newspaper b) doorstep the family in the hope of getting your own quotes, with no guarantee they will give any other interviews?

If you choose the latter, how long do you think it would be before your newsdesk rang you to say that Sky was quoting The Echo and why haven't you filed? I can tell you with experience that it's about 10 seconds. Like it or not, a short pick-up until you can get your own quotes is the only option in these days of 24-hour news. Pick-ups aren't advisable on all stories but when you do it, you've just got to hope that the paper you're picking up is transparent about its sources, too.

Anonymous said...

In response to anonymous, it looks like The Echo paid for Solent's work. PA did not. If PA had paid, I doubt Solent would be complaining. Grabbing a few quotes is one thing, but lifting wholesale is quite another. If the paper has paid up fair and square, they can do what they want - the agency would have been working for them in effect. PA didn't, so can't.

These days much of the copy on PA is not much more than rewritten copy from local papers, anyway, other than the big national stories. PA's hard earned reputation seems to paper over some shortcomings, which I can only assume are dye to a lack of reporting staff, as is the fashion across the industry.