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City Pages web work probed again

Acknowledging that a local writer has inflicted some virtual pain, City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman says he’s tightening up the paper’s photo-crediting policy.
By David Brauer

Last week, I described Ed “The Deets” Kohler’s investigation of City Pages’ Digg-manipulating web strategy as a “virtual rectal probe.”

“As the chief recipient, I wouldn’t disagree with that description,” says the alt-weekly’s editor Kevin Hoffman.

I’d emailed Hoffman after Kohler’s latest exposé accusing CP — and the editor specifically — of ripping off images decorating the Blotter blog. Memorably, Kohler labeled the alleged copyright infringement “CityPages’ Photo-Klepto Problem.”

While sounding a bit peeved by Kohler’s relentlessness — “this marks the third consecutive week where Ed has attacked us over one issue or another” — Hoffman was willing to allow that his tormentor had a point.

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“If and when Ed points out areas where we can do better, we’re prepared to listen, and on the issue of on-line art, we agree there are some images where we failed to give proper credit to the source,” he writes.

Some Deets commenters noted CP was quickly scared straight. Shortly after Kohler posted his piece Thursday morning, the weekly removed many of the offending images, and today’s Blotter appears to be a model of proper credit.

City Pages isn’t alone in some of its violations — I took an image off from the University of Washington’s library site Monday, with fingers crossed that permission wasn’t needed. I talked to a few other newsies around town who have gotten into a Flickr scrape or two. Kohler’s post, while a shot at Hoffman, was a necessary reminder to many of us.

Still, CP has stood out for two reasons: First, it’s swiped images from other media organizations such as the Associated Press, which is a recipe for expensive trouble. Second, because Blotter uses a Gawker-like template, it’s very visual; with staffers pumping out a dozen or more items daily, the pilfering temptation surely became stronger.

One update on Kohler’s earlier posts: I’m not sure if his fisking resulted in this Association of Alternative Newsweeklies story, but senior management at CP’s Phoenix-based owners, Village Voice Media, were forced to respond to his allegations.

A week or so after Kohler complained that Twin Cities advertisers might pay inflated prices because CP didn’t segregate ads seen by local and national readers, VVM started doing just that. Hoffman notes the “geotargeting” plan was in the works since November; in the AAN piece, VVM Chief Operating Officer Scott Tobias brags, “We think we’re blazing a trail here for local advertisers.”

Another VVM honcho, digital operations director Bill Jensen, dismissed Kohler’s charge that staffers game Digg’s social-networking algorithm to create powerful story-promoting identities:

“I equate it to someone complaining about us having too many boxes out on the street,” Jensen says. He says that the company and its writers and editors are simply trying to get their content out there by “going to where people are” online, and that, either way, less than 5 percent of VVM’s web traffic comes from Digg.

By the way, the story also mentions some new VVM efforts: the “nerd” blog Topless Robot; Daily Fork, “a national food site that aggregates content from the company’s papers and features original blog content”; and social-networking site, which Seattle competitor The Stranger says “erode[s] the wall between editorial content and advertising by promoting its advertisers under the guise of community buzz.”

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Tobias is more anodyne, referring to social networking generally as “a gigantic opportunity. … It gives our readers another opportunity to use our 30 years of listings and content. They are able to interact with it and have an opinion on it.”