I’ve spent the last ten years moving back and forth from print magazines to online publications. I used to worry that the shifts would make me look unfocused, but now the lines of print and digital are blurring. You can’t be a good print editor if you’re not thinking about digital, and — while this is perhaps less obvious — you’re a stronger digital editor if you understand how to put a well together.
Lately, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment, I’ve been thinking about ethics with regard to ownership and copyright. As anyone who’s been following Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism and Jonah Lehrer’s quote fabrication knows, even journalists at the top aren’t necessarily above lifting the work of others or just plain making stuff up.
Which brings us to BlackBook magazine.
A few weeks ago, Sabs informed me that I was in BlackBook. More specifically, the back of my head was sitting next to Katniss Everdeen’s face. The photo was taken for a braid tutorial at Sugar, and it was used without permission. Did we receive an email asking us about the photo? Not at all. I expect this sort of lifting from Tumblr blogs, but not from a print magazine. So I emailed BlackBook’s editor, Joshua David Stein, to let him know about the issue. After two weeks without a reply, I nudged him this morning, and he’s putting me in touch with the photo editor. Story at 11.
I’m writing about this not to trash BlackBook; I assume this isn’t standard procedure for them. Do mistakes happen? Yes. Of course. I’ve worked with writers who, knowingly or unknowingly, lifted someone else’s work — and I’ve had to let them go. But for some people, the idea of content ownership is passé, a dusty old-guard way of thinking. That’s fine if you’re into curation, but not so great if you’re hoping to encourage originality and creativity. And it’s definitely not good for writers and photographers who’ve traditionally been paid for their work.
Last week, in some sort of publishing-industry balancing karma, a different magazine’s photo editor reached out about publishing a photo from Admiring Distance. And as excited as I am about that, I’m also glad that seeing my photo in the magazine won’t be a surprise.