Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

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How would you feel if you spent a few days writing a really great song, put it up on your website and the next morning someone else was singing it on the radio as though it was their own?

Oh sure, they changed a few words, but it's your idea, your tune, your work.

You'd feel ripped off, most likely.

You'd wonder how they can get away with it. At the very least, you'd wonder why they didn't give you some credit for your work.

Well, put yourself in Free Press justice reporter Mike McIntyre's shoes. He's been writing stories lately from courtrooms in which he's the only news reporter there.

Yet many mornings, he's hearing those same court stories presented by radio stations which never reveal where they read it first -- in the pages of the Free Press.

Last week, Aldo Santin came to us with a story idea: Was it possible that Ontario had actually changed its H1N1 strategy in the wake of the outbreaks on Manitoba reserves?

It took him two days to chase that story, haranguing health officials at all levels, talking to chiefs of First Nations.

The day it finally was published in the paper, I heard it read aloud on the local "information superstation." It could have been a feed from the wire services, which we supply every night. But at least the wire services give us credit for our work.

There's nothing particularly unusual about this. The Free Press is the largest newsroom in the province, and responsible for 80 per cent of all the news generated in the community.

But every newsroom in North America is under siege in this recession, and as the reporters disappear, more and more broadcast media in particular are relying on the work of this newsroom to fill their newscasts.

It would be fine if they gave those reporters credit for their work, or if they acknowledged where their news was coming from.

It would be even better if they could do what real newsrooms do -- follow our story with their own work, updating or augmenting it with more sources, taking another tack.

But ripping and reading, pretending it's your own work? Stealing quotes from our reporters' Twitters and inserting them into plagiarized stories as though they were at the scene?

Not when my own newsroom is facing cutbacks.

We launched an ad campaign this week, trying to explain the situation to our readers and others.

We want you to know where your news is coming from.

We want you to know that when it comes to local news, entertainment and sports, the Free Press is the best source -- and sometimes the only source -- in town.

It's important to know this because this is a tough time for newspapers.

Market researchers say there's no value in news.

It's free everywhere on the Internet, they say. You can hear it for nothing on the radio, watch it on the television, get it transmitted to your cellphone.

But where did it come from in the first place? Predominately from the journalists who still have jobs at their local newspapers.

I don't agree with those market researchers, obviously.

I think the work this newsroom does is worth a great deal to this community, to the sports teams, the cultural groups, the politicians (or at least their constituents) -- and especially to the other news organizations.

Because whether they tell you or not, they're playing our song.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2009 A16

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