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Journalists copy stories from other sources all the time. In theory, they should provide attribution, but this doesn’t always happen. When they copy a story from elsewhere without checking the date of publication, this can end up making them look pretty dumb.

On BBC News’s “Most Popular” feature, it’s not uncommon for older stories to pop up from time to time. This evening, the number two spot is occupied by the “Pornographic videos flood YouTube” story from May 2009. It seems that somebody in the Daily Mail newsroom, being unable to go out and dig up some news for themselves, decided that a quick harvesting of BBC News would help while away the afternoon, for at around 16:00 BST the same story, rewritten to fit in with the Mail’s house style, appeared on their web site.

BBC web developer Jake Archibald, aka @jaffathecake, noticed this and tweeted about it. Co-incidentally, I had just seen the BBC story linked to by a user on a forum I frequent who had also failed to notice the dateline, so I immediately realised what had happened.

Being a helpful sort of chap, I went to the trouble of registering with the Daily Mail’s site and posted the comment “You do realise that the BBC News story you copied comes from May 2009?” My comment was held in a moderation queue, so I left the story open in a tab while I wasted time elsewhere.

Returning about fifteen minutes later I reloaded the tab to see if my comment had made it through moderation, only to be greeted by the message: “Sorry… The page you have requested does not exist or is no longer available.” 🙂

It’s nice to see that the Mail’s newsroom staff are sufficiently on the ball to remove the story so rapidly late on a Sunday evening. Without wishing to nitpick in the face of such efficiency, wouldn’t it be even better if they learned to check the dates on other people’s stories before re-writing them and publishing them under the byline “Daily Mail Reporter.” They could save themselves a lot of wasted effort.

UPDATE: After posting this, I had a conversation with a journalist friend who pointed out that, on a Sunday afternoon, the newsroom of a national paper is probably staffed by young people seeking a break into journalism and working for a trivial wage, as newsrooms were some years ago, when he himself was such a person. (I strongly suspect that nowadays the newsroom is staffed on a weekend by young people working as unpaid interns in the hope of getting such a break, though I may be wrong.) If such a person was responsible for this #mailfail then I hope that they will not be punished but rather be given guidance on how to avoid such errors in future; for the person truly responsible was not them, but the editor who approved its online publication without further checks.

Further update: via Martin Robbins, here’s a mirror of the Daily Mail article.

P.S. Mail developers: you should really be returning 301 Moved Permanently rather than 302 Found to redirect to your 404 error page. Even better, don’t use a client-side redirect for 404 Not Found at all.