Network sharing may be common, but that doesn't make it fair

Special Report: Reporters who report another reporter's reporting. Not so you'd know.

Example: A recent piece by KVBC-TV, Channel 3's Angela Martin about an online flimflam -- cyber-scammers gaslighting job seekers -- practically Xeroxed a story by tech reporter Scott Budman of KNTV, NBC's San Francisco affiliate. Built on KNTV's footage and Budman's reportage, the narrative was scarcely rewritten and completely rerecorded by Martin, no new interviews, no nod to KNTV.

Remade as theirs? Not revealing it's not? Don't ask. Don't tell. ... We asked.

"I don't know if it's standard, but it is common," says Channel 3 News Director Deborah Clayton. "We are licensed with NBC for those feeds and they're ours to do with what we should. We do it with a familiar (Martin's) voice. And we send our stuff to the network and even CNN."

But CNN IDs contributors, acknowledging their efforts.

Channel 3's swindle story was a token tweak of Budman's script, some segments revoiced verbatim, his interview with a source re-edited, his explanation that the interviewee "told us" (KNTV) information deleted.

Attempted in print -- lifting whole chunks of another reporter's work, dressing it as your own, failing to credit the source -- it's called plagiarism, even when the reporters involved toil for the same news outlet. Clayton rejects that label TV-wise, calling it network "sharing," adding: "We treat this feed the way you would a wire service."

Not quite: Newspapers credit outside contributors to local stories, if not individually, then organizationally, such as, "The Associated Press contributed to this article." Entire wire stories are specifically bylined, or at least listed as wire. Either way, it's clear if a paper's staffer did not write it.

Channel 3 paid no equivalent courtesy to KNTV, which didn't just "contribute" to the story. It created it.

As a code of the craft, media organizations demanding full disclosure from newsmakers should in turn supply that to news consumers. Callers to this columnist sometimes declare a distrust of all media, a widely held -- though often overly conspiratorial -- sentiment. Trust begins with openness, even on a basic journalism level such as attribution.

Not all affiliates align with Channel 3. New England's WCSH-TV, for one, aired Budman's piece undisguised, needing no "familiar voice." WCSH and Channel 3 both posted the videos online, Channel 3's with a print summary, tagged "Angela Martin reporting."

Why wouldn't Channel 3 ID the San Francisco source, WCSH-style? "I don't have an answer," Clayton says. "If they ran it nationally, fine. If (Martin) retracked it, fine. You pay to share."

Share with others? Cool. Take credit from others? Well ... just because something is common practice doesn't make it fair practice.

They're Watching Out For You, true. We just didn't know that they -- whoever "they" turn out to be -- were watching from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at or 702-383-0256.