Effect Measure

Yesterday we did a post on a breaking story about popcorn lung. It’s not just workers. Consumers are also at risk, although how much risk is hard to say. Casual consumption of microwave popcorn using the artificial butter flavoring diacetyl is probably not very risky, but day in and day out consumption may be. You can read about one such consumer in this story in the New York Times. What you won’t read about in the Times is that the story was broken by a blogger, our colleague Dr. David Michaels over at The Pump Handle. As a result of Michaels’ blog post the story was picked up by major media outlets, including the AP, which credited him as the source, as did the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. So what’s up with the Times?

As a blogger I was personally miffed that a fellow blogger (not to mention friend and colleague) didn’t get credit for it, especially as he has consistently highlighted the public health aspects of this problem and helped push it into its current visibility (in fact is responsible for the current story). He has been reporting on this since the outset. So I emailed him to find out why not. He told me the reporter used him as a source and mentioned him in the story but the mention of the blog and the blogger were cut out of the story by an editor at The Times.

So when the conventional print media complains that bloggers don’t do “real” reporting and parasitize off of “real” reporters, just remember how they make sure this is true. Bloggers, on the other hand, including this one, usually cite our sources and even link to them so you can check what we say isn’t out of context. Apparently that is just blogger ethics, though, not the ethics of “real” journalists like the editors at The New York Times.

You know which ones. The ones who helped bring us the War in Iraq.


  1. #1 Jordan Barab
    September 5, 2007

    As a recovering blogger, I was also frequently miffed at reporters “forgetting” to cite my blog. The other irritating thing was even when they did mention the blog, they generally didn’t bother to hotlink it (or at least provide the url) on their web version.

  2. #2 revere
    September 5, 2007

    Jordan: I see you have frequent relapses. Which is good. Stay stricken.

  3. #3 James Stein
    September 5, 2007

    You can leave comments on the news to NYT’s senior editors’ voicemail at 1-888-698-6397. You should mention the NYT piece is called “Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit”, it’s by GARDINER HARRIS, and published: September 5, 2007.

    I called the NYT to complain. Others should also. It’s only fair that the person they *stole their news from* should at least get cited.

  4. #4 Maria
    September 5, 2007

    You should also try the public editor.

  5. #5 AnneLaurie
    September 5, 2007

    Perhaps the MBAs running the New York Times need to be told “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is *not* an enforceable copyright?

    Seriously — the Thought Leaders of the Media seem to have decided that “news” is a resource, like fresh water or mineral deposits, and therefore something to be commodified like any other resource. In their view, reporters are equivalent to the subsistence farmers that the oil corporations “generously” truck into the Amazon jungle: disposable minions who’ll clear out the indigenes, fire ants, and other vermin at less expense than air-dropping Agent Orange over the whole basin. Neither the boardroom barons nor the hardscrabble journalists consider the savage blogger tribes worthy of accredation, much less consultation. Of course the journalists are slated for extinction as soon as the Internet wilderness has been “tamed” sufficiently, but the lowly news peons stealing blog stories don’t choose to contemplate the event horizon further than the next news cycle…

  6. #6 Abel Pharmboy
    September 5, 2007

    Well, at least the AP story on Yahoo’s ‘most emailed’ prominently quotes Dr. Michaels and gives the URL for The Pump Handle.

    BTW, I used to call diacetyl 2,3-butanediol, which makes it sound worse. Diacetyl is a common off-flavor in beer, esp homebrews. But obviously when inhaled in large quantities it is terribly toxic to the lungs.

    Thanks for keeping us posted as this story continues to develop.

  7. #7 M. Randolph Kruger
    September 5, 2007

    Well Revere old friend, this one should just about set you off like a bomb then…

    This is two hours old at the time of this posting. Most of you will see it in times afterwards.


    This is Reuters six hours ago at the time of this posting.


    I guess Orville Redenbacher croaked from this stuff.

  8. #8 Abel Pharmboy
    September 5, 2007

    revere, sorry to be redundant with my citation of the proper attribution in the AP story. I was reading your post and commenting on a handheld while traveling and missed that part of your post.

  9. #9 Banjo Playing Hamster
    September 6, 2007

    There’s been a court case in Egypt where a judge who plagiarized several bloggers has tried to get their blogs censored.

    Which, I think, is orders of magnitude worse though along the exact same tangent.

    The Banjo Players Must Die!

  10. #10 revere
    September 6, 2007

    Randy: Yes, these stories are all on TPH, which is the source for popcorn lung.

  11. #11 matt
    September 6, 2007

    MSM bashing aside, it’s worth remembering that a proportion of any newspaper is made up of re-writes of wires (AP/Reuters/Bloomsburg) stories. In general, because the newspaper subscribes to the wire service, they don’t normally make an attribution.

    In the spirit of attributing to ignorance rather than malice, I would suggest that the journalist simply re-wrote the AP wire and as is traditional failed to make attribution to AP.

    That he did not cite the primary source is bad but not necessarily malicious.

  12. #12 revere
    September 6, 2007

    matt: No, this wasn’t a wire service rewrite. The reporter talked to David and included the cite in his story. His editor took it out. I guess it wasn’t fit to print.

  13. #13 Roger Ritthaler
    September 6, 2007

    I emailed executive-editor@nytimes.com and
    managing-editor@nytimes.com, saying:

    Shame on you for allowing GARDINER HARRIS in “Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit” to omit the source – Dr. David Michaels – of his article.

    I also referenced this article.

  14. #14 Christopher Mims
    September 6, 2007

    I hate to say this, but not crediting your sources is pretty standard practice in MSM journalism. It’s bloggers who came up with the “innovation” of always linking to sources, and hunting down original sources, and even crediting the source that pointed you to the original source (via the “Via” convention). This is all earth-shatteringly fair and utopian from the perspective of old-line journalism (I know having been the victim of having my material — in the MSM — covered and not credited by other folks — also in the MSM.)

    I would suggest that the reason this never caught on in print was that, unlike the web where linkage = instant karma, there was never a real incentive to do this in print. I mean, facts aren’t copyrightable, so there’s no legal obligation to credit a source. Bloggers can crow about how much more ethical on this count they are than print journalists, but it’s good to remember that the bloggy conventions of attribution evolved in part because on the web, karma and traffic are related. Not so in print.

    Which isn’t to say that I’m not ecstatic that bloggers will be dragging the MSM into the 21st century on this (and many other) counts.

  15. #15 Paul
    September 6, 2007

    Complaining on this blog can help. It can shame media types to change their behavior. But the best way to handle this is to send a letter to the NY Times Public Editor explaining the situation and asking them to clarify NY Times policies on giving credit to blogs.

    If this story had been broken by someone at the Washington Post, you’d better believe that the editor would ensure that this was in the story. Why is the policy different if it’s a blog?

  16. #16 Mario
    September 6, 2007

    I saw a popcorn lung story out there several weeks ago. I doubt you’re the first to “break” the story.

  17. #17 revere
    September 6, 2007

    Mario: You need to read the posts. I did not say we broke “the popcorn lung story.” We posted on it many months ago, based on work David Michaels has done at The Pump Handle for a long time (you can see the link to his posts on our post if you take the trouble to follow it). What we said is that he (David Michaels) broke the story a consumer was affected, something you most definitely did not read weeks ago. I guarantee that.

  18. #18 stogoe
    September 6, 2007

    Bloggers should just buy out AP or McClatchy. Then, and only then, will Traditional Media coverage of news start to improve.

  19. #19 maryn
    September 7, 2007

    ScienceTracker, the blog of the MIT Science Journalism Fellowships, has a post about the popcorn lung stories. I’ve added a comment about the backstory of Pumphandle not being credited. Find it here: