Sgt. Hammerclaw here. You don’t know who I am, and I certainly wouldn’t expect you to, so please give me a moment to tell you a little bit about myself. At my core, I am just another guy. Last night, you endearingly referred to me as “someone.” That was very kind of you. My hobbies include occasionally writing on this here website, and I also enjoy making jokes on a sports-themed site called Deadspin. You may have heard of it.
Yesterday morning, you sent out a tweet poking fun at a recent Manti Te’o phone records story. It was funny. It looked like this:
That’s pretty funny, if I do say so myself. Of course, I might be biased in this instance, because I had created it 18 hours before you tweeted it out.
When I first saw your tweet, it was in a twitter mention 45 minutes after you had originally sent it out. Someone else had seen your tweet, recognized where it came from, and told you that you should give out the proper credit for it. You elected not to do so. I scrolled through your mentions, and this joke was well received by your followers, with positive feedback extending beyond the retweets and favorites seen above.
This is all fine and good, once you get past the unethical nature of it all.
Late last night, a group of Deadspin commenters confronted you about stealing the joke. Instead of admitting that you lifted it, you decided to respond in an adversarial manner, as you are wont to do. You told one commenter that you never said you came up with it, but that “someone” did.
Here’s the thing, Jason. In this instance, the entire joke was built on the premise that the document came from an unreliable source. In my original joke, I had even indicated that I didn’t create the phone records, but that someone gave them to me. Someone was Manti Te’o. That was the whole point.
But you already know that.
The uncertainty regarding the people involved in the Manti Te’o hoax – from participants to sources – has been a driving force behind the scandal. Indicating that the document you tweeted out came from “someone” added to the joke. It was not a credit to me. Your claim that “someone” was your way of acknowledging that you didn’t create it means that you are either a liar or an idiot. While I do find you disagreeable on occasion, I do not think you are an idiot. Your claim that it was randomly texted to you may very well be true, but you’re a journalist, and I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t think to ask a simple follow up question – “where did this come from?” – upon receiving it. I think that you knew exactly what you were doing with your presentation of that tweet. Unfortunately, when pressed by some of my Deadspin cohorts last night, you tried to cover your ass by claiming that “somebody” was referring to the original creator of the joke, which only made things worse.
By this point you may be saying, “It was just a tweet. Let it go.”
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If you were just another twitter user with 200 followers and a picture of your cat as your avatar, this would not matter at all, but alas, you are not. You see, when I post on Deadspin, Twitter and even here on HFTE, I stand to gain nothing. Look around – there are no ads on this site. We do not generate a dime through our work here. The same holds true for me regarding my work in the Deadspin comments and on twitter. Like I said, this is all a hobby of mine, nothing more.
However, when you write columns and post on twitter, the same standards do not apply. You are building a brand through twitter. Every time you click the “Tweet” button, it has an effect on that brand. When you steal someone’s work, present it as your own and generate a positive reaction, it helps build your brand. In fact, I’d venture a guess that between all of the retweets, favorites and mentions that you received as a result of my work, you probably gained a follower or two. Now, I know this may seem trivial to you – after all, you do have almost 160,000 followers as it is – but the next time you tweet out a link to one of your columns, those new followers may just click on that link. If they happen to like what they see, they may share it with a friend or two. Ultimately, this pattern may result in an increased readership and therefore more revenue for you through your pageviews. It does make a difference.
Having said all of that, here’s something you need to know: I’m not mad about this. Granted, some of my Deadspin Commenting cohorts may be more upset with you than I am, but that’s only because we are all respectful of each other’s work, and are willing to defend that work when the time calls for it.
I don’t want an apology. I don’t want a correction. I’m not asking for anything from you as a result of this letter. I just hope that next time a random text or email elicits a chuckle, you spend 20 seconds trying to figure out where it came from before misrepresenting it as your own work. Whether it’s from a professional at ESPN or someone in the Deadspin comments, lifting content will eventually be noticed. Gaining a reputation as a plagiarist is not a good label for a professional in your line of work. Just ask Lynn Hoppes.
Keep doing the damn thang,