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St. Petersburg Times’ political editor Adam Smith fails to give credit where credit is due

in Peter/The Bay and the 'Burg by

Two similar national stories about altered photos of Barack Obama, each with a local connection, have captivated both the traditional media and the blogosphere. The first centered around St. Petersburg’s Dr. David McKalip’s e-mailing of a photoshopped picture of Obama depicted as a witch-doctor, the second was about Florida state Rep. Darryl Rouson’s denouncement of the posting on the Pinellas County Republican Party’s Facebook page of a widely disseminated image of Barack Obama painted in whiteface, supposedly to look like a character from the movie The Dark Knight.

Just the type of sensational stories that drive readers to newspapers and traffic to websites. So it was no surprise to see the St. Petersburg Times‘ political editor Adam Smith reporting about both controversies.

But how Smith arrived at these stories and how he omitted proper acknowledgement of the original sources for these stories raises questions. Smith’s disregard for online media, including this blog, doesn’t exactly put his actions in the same category as Maureen Dowd’s lifting of lines from a blog, but it does show a disregard for new media.

On July 23, Talking Points Memo, a national online media site, first reported about Dr. McKalip, a prominent conservative activist, forwarding the picture of Obama depicted as a witch doctor. The next day Smith posted a story on The Buzz about the uproar surrounding McKalip. By the end of the day, McKalip had resigned as president-elect of the Pinellas Medical Association, as well as other from other posts and committees.

An interesting story about a hometown figure broken by a national outlet and reported on by the local newspaper.

The only problem is originally Smith failed to acknowledge where this national story began. Zach Roth, the writer at Talking Points Memo who broke the McKalip story says he had to write Smith to insist he acknowledge from where the story first came.

“I wrote to him after it appeared,” Roth said in a response to my inquiry. In an e-mail to Smith, Roth wrote (while) “It’s technically true, as you write, that ‘several popular liberal blogs, including Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post and Daily Kos, highlighted McKalip’s e-mail’. But Huffpo and Kos picked it up from us. It was our
original reporting. Just wanted to point that out!”

Smith politely responded “You’re absolutely right I should have been clearer about that. My bad, and good job on that story. I’m about to add an updated blog post and will give you a bigger shout out.”

But by this time, hundreds, if not thousands of readers (the Times states to potential advertisers that The Buzz attracts at least 11,000 page views a day) had read the story.

Roth acknowledges Smith never agreed to fix it, “just that he’d do a separate post that credited us properly.” Roth continued: “But then a colleague of his, Letitia Stein, did a followup that similarly referred to “several liberal blogs” rather than crediting us. I wrote her a similar email to the one I sent Smith, but never got a response.”

A mountain out of a molehill? Certainly. But imagine if keyboard was on the other desk. The Times would have made sure it received proper credit.

It really wouldn’t be a problem if it was an isolated incident for Smith. The trouble is Smith turned around and did the same thing only two weeks later. To me.

On Monday night, I first reported about a Facebook page linked to the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee displaying a controversial photo of Barack Obama painted in whiteface. It was a local connection to a national story. 10 Connects showed a segment about the Facebook page based on my reporting. And they generously acknowledged where the story originated.

As did the Tampa Tribune:


But what did Adam Smith do? He sent a characteristically curt e-mail dismissing my request for a simple acknowledgement of my reporting, including my contacting of Rep. Rouson, whose staff I contacted about the image’s posting and insisted they conact Smith specifically because of his reporting on the McKalip story.

Smith wrote: “You broke the story that a picture posted on Drudge and spreading across the internet had wound up on a facebook page? Or you persuaded Rouson to call reporters and denounce it?”

Of course that wasn’t what I was saying at all. What I was hoping for was for Smith, who a reporter at the Times told me referred to my blog as “trash,” was to recognize where the local aspect of a national story had begun.

I didn’t want a “shout out” as Smith must have assumed. All I was looking for was respect. But he wouldn’t give so much as an inch.

So I contacted Jennifer Orsi, one of the editors at the St. Petersburg Times. As expected, she stated there was no need for Smith to acknowledge my reporting as he wrote the story based on his own reporting.

But he would not have had the story had it not been for my blog post. Up until I wrote about it, no one else had noticed the picture on the Facebook page, Rep. Rouson would likely have not noticed, Smith would not have been contacted. The further investigation into who posted the picture, in this case an Assistant State Attorney working after hours on a government computer, would not have taken place.

Yet it appears Smith can not be bothered. Which is a typical reaction from the traditional media, which complains endlessly about the blogosphere. Here was a situation, the second for Smith, in which a little courtesy would have gone a long way.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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