Beyonce’s body and bad re-writes

I was going to blog about the constant policing of women’s bodies in the mainstream media, and how celebrity weight changes are now considered News, not just Entertainment News, and about how women are mocked if they don’t look sexually attractive throughout their entire pregnancy, and about how images of Beyonce’s body were examined to discover whether or not her “bump” was real, and about how a few weeks after having a baby, nameless journos have scrutinised her body for signs of weight gain and declared that since only her boobs are bigger, then she is sexy. But then I noticed something.

I noticed how similar the News.com.au and smh.com.au versions of the Beyonce story are. And I noticed how similar they both are to the original story on Us Weekly.

Some similarities are unavoidable, particularly when using journalese. (For a laugh, check out Words journalists use that people never say and the BBC’s paper monitor.) Journalists tend to use the same words, the same voices and the same angles when writing stories, so of course their stories all sound the same. They’re consistent. Predictable. Very predictable. After all, today’s funny tech stories were last week’s RTs on twitter.

But how much similarity is ok and how much is plagiarism?

This is all the Media Alliance Code of Ethics has to say about it:

10. Do not plagiarise.

Righty-o then.

Australian news sites run on re-writes from British and American tabloids. Without them, online journalists would have to, um, pick up the phone and make some calls and write their own stories. I guess it comes down to what what online editors think is important: getting your tertiary-educated journalists to chase stories that your competitors don’t have – stories that make your website a trusted, “must visit” news source, thereby improving your own job prospects – or getting them to bash out a few pars of the same shit that’s on every website.

But, to be fair, journalists in Australian newsrooms can’t be there in person to report on what a celebrity is wearing and whether or not they look fat/tired/like their relationship is on the rocks every time they leave the house, so re-writes are a necessary evil if you want to run these stories on your website.

So, the stories. News.com.au went for the SEO bonanza headline – Beyonce proves she’s already crazy in shape just one month after giving birth to Blue Ivy – but loses points for saying that Beyonce was “stepping out to support her rapper husband”. Unless she was performing a dance move, “stepping out” should not have made it past the sub.

During the concert, Jay-Z reportedly got choked up while performing Glory, the song he wrote for their newborn daughter.

Pay attention to that sentence. At smh.com.au: Woah mama! Beyonce’s post baby appearance:

Jay-Z looked visibly choked up when he performed Glory – the song he wrote for his new baby girl.

And from the original story at Us Weekly: Beyonce Reveals Sexy Post-Baby Body 1 Month After Giving Birth:

During the concert, Jay-Z got choked up while performing “Glory,” the song he wrote for their daughter, Blue Ivy (born January 7 in NYC).

This is also from the original:

Post-show, A-list guests hit up Jay-Z’s 40/40 club for the official after-party.

Knowles was clearly enjoying her night off, arriving half an hour after her hip-hop husband, 42, walked the red carpet.

And this is from the News.com.au re-write:

Following the show, A-list guests hit up Jay-Z’s 40/40 club for the after-party.

Knowles, 30, was clearly enjoying her night off, arriving half an hour after her hip-hop husband, 42, walked the red carpet.

Righty-o then.

12 responses to “Beyonce’s body and bad re-writes

  1. I often wonder about this when reading a version of the same story in another publication (months after the original appeared, usually- points to news.com.au and SMH for being current?) Same as reading an almost word perfect press release masquerading as news.

    It seems to enough to pop the line “read more on xxx at yyy”, and makes me wonder: as a journalism student could I get away with a Re-write as long as I “reference” the original article? After all, this is the craft I’m learning, eh?

    Scuse me, I’ve a 2000 word assignment to write around alternative news.. I wonder if there’s something I can rewrite!

    • Re-writing a media release and putting your byline on it is bad journalistic practice. News.com.au journos do it all the time. But SMH journos re-write AAP copy and put their byline on it, which is also bad practice.

      There isn’t any way to avoid re-writes. Best practice is to do the “read more at blah” and to make sure the copy indicates in the first two sentences where it has come from. That way the author gets the credit and your readers can see where the story started.

  2. I’ll stipulate to the fact that it’s difficult for Australian-based journos to “be there” to get their own unique perspective (and information) on what’s happening in the world of celebrity, but my question is this: at what point should online editors just republish the tabloid articles verbatim, attribute the work to said tabloids and free up their journalists to chase (and write) real stories? I may be missing something important, but it doesn’t seem like an overly intelligent use of resources.

    Surely any journalist would prefer to have their byline against an engaging, exclusive piece, rather than something that looks like it’s been spewed out* and rewritten by a 7-year-old with an iPad.

    * Sorry, I probably shouldn’t mention vomiting while you are in your current condition.

    • I agree. I don’t think it’s an intelligent use of resources at all. And that’s one of the reasons I’m no longer a journalist. In general, yes, journalists do want to be writing those investigative exclusives, but in practice, a journo who consistently finds stories that get lots of clicks is invaluable to an editor without vision.

      (Spew references are fine. I’m happy to report that lunch stayed down.)

      (Oh, for people who don’t follow me on twitter, no I’m not pregnant. I’ve got a stomach bug. Picked it up from Lexy and SuperDik’s little girl. Have been vomiting since Monday. It’s been fabulous.)

  3. Jay-Z looked visibly choked up

    As opposed to looking “invisibly” choked up.

  4. How about not publishing stories like that in the first place? In a music mag or specialist zine it would be fine. In celebrity mags it’s fine. But a newspaper? How is it news???

    To the main point of the post, since syndicated content is one of the cornerstones of ‘web 2.0′ ( not my favourite phrase) then simply republishing the entire original piece should be fine (and preferable to rewriting it). Saves time for the Journos to write original pieces and makes your site a one stop shop.

    I still say its not news though … :oP

  5. Heeey, that looks really easy! I’m gonna give it a try.
    Here goes:

    I was considering writing about the constant policing of female bodies in the media, and how celebrity weight fluctations are considered not just Entertainment News, but News!
    I thought of blogging about how women are mocked if they don’t appear sexually attractive while pregnant; how photos of Beyonce were examined to see if her “baby bump” was real; how a few weeks after having a child, nameless scribes scrutinised her for signs of weight gain. But, since only her boobs are bigger, they consider her to be suitably sexy. But then I discovered something strange …

  6. Just let me run that through the plagiaro-scrambler:

    – “You’re a very good journalist now.”

    Say, this is kinda fun. And you’re telling me they pay people decent money to do it? Amazing!

  7. (Scramble-scramble-scramble, whirrr, BOING … )

    “Well, I don’t know if you can call it “decent” pay …

    OK, stopping now.

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