Sunday, February 11, 2007

Common Knowledge & Common Sense

A still from CardPlayer's video depicting a Bluff reporter cutting and pasting chip countsYou might have heard about that tiff between CardPlayer and Bluff Magazine. A couple of weeks ago, CardPlayer posted a three-and-a-half minute video on its site purporting to show a Bluff Magazine reporter cutting and pasting chip counts from the CP site over to Bluff’s site during the Borgata Winter Poker Open. While the video is not entirely unambiguous, the unidentified Bluff reporter does not deny that he is indeed copying content when he is asked on camera about what he is doing. A self-satisfied Rich Belsky (co-host of The Circuit) introduces the clip and then comments afterwards, congratulating himself and the CardPlayer staff for having been able to disgrace a rival. Bluff Magazine has responded -- in a way -- via a post on its forums. As one might expect, Bluff denies the implications of the video.

If one reads the forums and blogs, reaction to this here “story” has been somewhat muted. Ambivalence about CardPlayer’s own journalistic integrity has perhaps prevented most from jumping to their defense here. I’ve complained before about CardPlayer’s frequent blurring of the line between reporting/journalism and advertising/promotion. Hell, Belsky himself is an agent who represents a few of the professional poker players about whom he writes in CardPlayer and converses about on The Circuit. Does that matter? Not necessarily. But let’s say Belsky is writing an article about the UIGEA and begins with a line like “To say that it's an interesting time for the poker industry would be like me telling you Mike Matusow is kind of a loud person” (as he began an article in the November 1, 2006 issue of CardPlayer College Magazine). A perfectly reasonable way to start such a piece, right? As it happens, Belsky is Matusow’s agent, someone who is being paid to get the Mouth’s name out there at every opportunity. Does it matter now how he chose to open his article? (On his MySpace page, Belsky says he represents Matusow, John D’Agostino, and Jennifer “Jennicide” Leigh.)

Sort of thing tends to make some of us -- even those of us who actually care about issues like intellectual property or journalistic integrity -- less animated about CardPlayer’s supposed victimhood here. The other factor lessening the impact of CardPlayer’s “scoop” is the fact that the “content” being defended here is not editorial in nature -- it’s chip counts. Something akin to your local paper getting the score of Hometown U.’s lacrosse match off the college’s website, then reporting it in their pages without attribution.

Some, such as Jennifer Shoots, co-host of The Tournament Trail (on Hold ’em Radio), cry “plagiarism” here, and believe appropriate penalties should be assessed. “It really is a disgrace,” says Shoots (on the 1/31/07 episode). “If these magazines and media outlets aren’t going to do anything to prevent plagiarism . . . [the WPT] need[s] to take some steps to deny credentials to anybody who is going to participate in that fashion, because it’s just ridiculous.” She also believes that Bluff Magazine “need[s] to make a spectacle out of this guy . . . . To prevent things like that from happening again, they need to make an example -- not just for the magazines involved, but for the media in general. It’s just wrong. I say, destroy the guy.”

Shoots has a point. Of course, whether the Bluff reporter was actually guilty of “plagiarism” is perhaps a matter for debate. Regarding plagiarism, the Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook tells students “You must give credit for all information you use except common knowledge and your own ideas.” Are chip counts “common knowledge”? Perhaps not. However, chip counts are certainly closer to common knowledge than other kinds of content, e.g., reporting and/or editorials containing genuinely “original” words and ideas. (Not to be overly catty here, but a lot of the “content” one hears on a show like The Tournament Trail -- a show that consists largely of reports on tourney circuit results -- appears to come from that same category of “common knowledge.”)

So a Bluff reporter was lazy here. Does he deserve to be punished? Yes, I think so. (EDIT [added 2/12/07]: Please see the comment below from Spaceman -- who has reported for Bluff -- that casts light on what happened, and casts doubt on the notion that the reporter here deserves any punishment.) Should CardPlayer have posted the video and sensationalized the affair in such an obviously juvenile way? Well, that’s an editorial decision CardPlayer chose to make. An article over on PokerBiz characterizes the whole affair as a “pissing match,” then goes on to make the point that the poker industry could probably do without such nonsense at present: “at a time when the poker industry is facing major challenges the fact that CardPlayer went out of their way to belittle another key player only shows that there is little, if any, solidarity in the industry.”

In my opinion, CardPlayer shouldn’t feel as though it needs to be at all loyal to Bluff Magazine as a “colleague” in the industry. However, when it comes to trumpeting its own “integrity,” CardPlayer might consider not underestimating its audience once in a while and instead use a little common sense.



Blogger JasonSpaceman said...

Jennifer Shoots ought to have her mouth sewn shut for running it with no idea of what was actually going on. First things first: there's never a single instance of "cutting and pasting" shown on the video. Second: the "anonymous source" is anything but reliable, as any source on the scene sympathetic to CP would say anything CP wanted. Third: reporters from different outlets at tournaments share information routinely, because most outlets only have one, maybe two reporters on the scene and nobody can do a good job if they work alone.

There's no plagiarism here. It wasn't even the chip count page that Ian was looking at - it was a river card that he missed while watching the aciton. Anyone who has ever covered a WPT final table knows that the WPT does nothing to make the reporter's job easy. You aren't sitting right next to the final table, you're in a perch where you can't even see the action. There's a monitor with camera feeds, controlled by the show's director, that all the reporters in the perch share. It's not at all uncommon to miss a card because the director cuts away from the board to a player's reaction too quickly.

Everyone who jumped the gun on this story, calling for this person's or that person's head, has obviously never worked a tournament for any media outlet. If they had, they wouldn't have been as loud and obnoxious as they were. Reporting tournaments is a tough job, an under-appreciated job, and an under-paid job. Those who have been there before know that. Those who haven't tend to scream loudly about what should be done without signing themselves up for the job.

You'll never see a video of CardPlayer reporters having the PokerWire reporters hand them descriptions of hands that just happened so they can put them up on CP. The reason for that is that only PW and CP produce video at these tournaments. CP uses other people's "material" all the time. You'll notice nobody has ever gone on the record complaining about them, though.

2/12/2007 3:09 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Spaceman, for clearing up this here jingle-brained mind.

I have a great deal of sympathy for circuit reporters. And for podcasters, too (generally speaking). When I say Shoots has a point, I mean regarding plagiarism in general -- which I agree did not occur here.

I hope it's reasonably clear that I see CardPlayer as more deserving of censure here.

2/12/2007 7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with jason

No evidence of cutting and pasting from 1 site to the other.

Belskis a knob anyway :-)

2/12/2007 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Richard said...

I don't have much to add to this post, but I just wanted to tell you that I just stumbled upon your blog and have enjoyed reading your blog posts, especially this one. Damn good writing.

2/14/2007 6:35 PM  
Blogger Haley said...

Good stuff.

2/15/2007 1:12 AM  

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