In Ethics on August 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm
This week, in the trials of a local newspaper editor, I’m sharing a story of plagiarism masquerading as marketing.
At issue was a provided column about an upcoming seminar on the topic of aging gracefully. The author was a local therapist who was giving her lecture at the local senior center. The problem came when it read a little … too well. I suppose I could use some software to help me sniff out copy and paste, but my own senses seem to work pretty well. So I copied a snippet into Google and found the same material here. And here. And here. You get the picture.
So I wrote a fairly snotty email to the nice lady who runs the senior center accusing the author of plagiarism and giving her a high-minded lecture on the integrity of our little newspaper and how I won’t run a plagiarized column.
It turns out it is a bit more complicated than I thought. The copy wasn’t so much purloined as it was purchased. The therapist got the marketing material from a national outfit that authorizes its use with its program that she is delivering here. Oh. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on September 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm
The Sidney Herald posted this photo on its website and Facebook page and caught heck for it.
The Herald’s Susan Minichiello posted the photo and asked my opinion after getting some negative feedback online. I told her that it is the duty of a local news site to publish the news and a rollover accident that brings out a dozen first-responders, may have stalled traffic and was clearly visible to everyone who passed by on a state highway is news. Period. People in the community want to know what happened, and whether the driver and other occupants are OK. Frankly, they have a right to know.
Please note that Susan was very careful. While she took other photos, some that showed the man being pulled from the car, she knew better than to post those. She brought the camera back to the office and calmly scrolled through what she had. She found the perfect angle that showed the extent of the crash and the response. It isn’t graphic. It doesn’t violate community standards. It’s about as good of a car crash photo as you are liable to find. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Editing on August 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm
One of our fine reporters was out of the office last week. That meant that I had the privilege of rifling through his email so that we didn’t miss out on the police blotter or anything else that came through his virtual transom while he was out of the mix.
That’s how I noticed the email from an attorney named Michael Haddid.
Haddid is representing a local guy who is suing the U.S. government after being tased by a National Park Service ranger. It’s been an interesting an ongoing story for us at the Half Moon Bay Review. The lawyer was filing for summary judgment in the case and that was news.
I set about remembering how to dial up federal court documents using Pacer and getting on the horn with the lawyer. As I combed through those court records, I came across a pair of emails, sent from the Taser-happy ranger to a colleague. Suffice to say, I’m sure she never intended those emails to be printed in the newspaper. She drops the “f” bomb four times in six paragraphs and “spineless” and “pathetic” are the nicest things she calls her supervisor in the emails.
There are two points I want to make about the experience.
- There but for the grace of god go I. All of us have probably sent email – either through our work or personal accounts – that we would not like to see in a federal court file. The ranger’s emails reminded me that my own can be subpoenaed. It should go without saying that you must remain professional at all times when using your Wick company email addresses. That’s a no-brainer. I would suggest you consider all written correspondence potentially public. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on August 3, 2012 at 7:09 am
Courtesy The Boston Globe
Jonah Lehrer’s fall from grace should give us all pause. He’s been compared to disgraced literary liars Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass and I suppose that’s fair. But Lehrer’s transgressions feel just a bit different to me – no more forgivable, mind you – just different. And I think it’s time for us all to rethink the way we handle talented, young journalists.
Most of the other disgraced journalists were just that – journalists. Lehrer was a shooting star. He was a Rhodes Scholar who had earned a degree in neuroscience. (Though I should add that I haven’t checked any of that out. He could well be lying about more than we know.) He remains a 30-year-old author who has appeared on Radiolab and contributed to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and just about every other large, respected news outlet in the country. He wasn’t a born liar, at least I don’t think so.
In case you missed it, Lehrer was found to be making up Bob Dylan quotes to fit his creativity thesis for his wildly successful book, “Imagine.” Putting words into the mouth of a living cultural icon is an audacious thing to do. He lost his job with the New Yorker magazine as a result and his credibility is shattered.
A lot has already been written about Lehrer’s career meltdown, some of it very good. I won’t restate Craig Silverman’s on-the-mark piece on the Poynter website, but I think all of our editors should read those warning signs and give them a good hard think. (Pay particular attention to Silverman’s warning about writers who return to the office with “the perfect anecdote, the perfect quote, the perfect stat or study.” As you know, we don’t live in a perfect world.) … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on September 1, 2011 at 12:32 pm
I confess, I found this amusing. As you can see, hyperlocal news sites, most of them newer than my tennis shoes, have discovered the ethical concerns of covering a small-town community. How do you please advertisers and readers simultaneously? Should you publish names in your police log? What if you know of a suicide or domestic violence charge?
You know, the sorts of things we’ve been worrying with at some Wick Communications newspapers since William McKinley was president.
OK, now that I’m done feeling superior, I want to back up for a minute. This is a really worthwhile effort by the folks at J-Lab. It is a sort of crowdsourced discussion of the ethical practices and concerns of newly established news and information sites. It is true that many Americans are ill-served by their local paper – many having long ago abandoned small towns and inner cities to concentrate on chasing dollars in wealthy suburbs. So it’s important that news entrepreneurs who take the place of newspapers in these communities learn to respect the same values and ethics that have guided the best professional journalists for many decades.
But let’s not act like these are new problems, as some involved in the discussion clearly do. Take, for instance, David Boraks of DavidsonNews.net … Read the rest of this entry »
In Photography on July 15, 2011 at 9:17 am
Remember Dolly the sheep? The one that was cloned back in the 1990s, setting off a flurry of furious worry that the fate of the furry farm animal would soon be ours? (I promise not to ever write a sentence like that again.)
Today, cloning is a photographic term as well as a scientific consideration. Photoshop includes a range of “cloning” tools designed to help photographers add dazzle to or remove unwanted elements from their images. Essentially, these tools allow you to clone one area of the photo and drop it in another place. In that way you can make a grass field a uniform green, add missles to your armory (as the government of Iran did not so long ago) and generally mislead your viewer.
All of that is well and good if you are a home photographer or an artist. They aren’t sworn to present a realistic view of the world the way we are at newspapers. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on March 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm
If you are on a beat for any length of time, you are likely to make friends with some of the people you cover. It’s a natural, human thing. When we’re put in a room with five other people, we’re going to like some more than others. Only in the world or journalism is this considered a problem.
The trick is knowing appropriate boundaries.
Those boundaries were apparently crossed long ago at the Statesville Record and Landmark, in Statesville, N.C. (Actually, I haven’t verified what I’m about to relate. For the purposes of our blog, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not; I intend it as a cautionary tale and something to keep in mind as we go about our business. Apologies to the R&L if some details are incorrect.) According to the Gatton Report, a police reporter for the R&L long ago accepted a cell phone from the local Sheriff’s Office. Allegedly, the phone, which was paid for by county taxpayers, was to be used in the reporter’s other role as public information officer in the event of emergencies in the county. She is also integral to the county’s crimestoppers organization.
Hopefully, you know better than this. It is only natural that someone covering a beat for 25 years would become tight with some sources. But you can’t accept things of significant value – and I would say a cell phone to use for months on end qualifies – from the people you cover. That should be especially obvious if you know taxpayers are footing the bill… Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on September 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm
This week, one Wick managing editor grappled with a pleasant kind of dilemma. He thought he might be asked to join the local chamber of commerce board of directors and he wondered aloud whether that was such a good idea.
As newspaper quandries go, this was a good one. As I told him I thought it was wonderful that local civic leaders think of him as a leader, a man of vision and someone with good ideas. And we want to be engaged in our communities. However…
It’s pretty easy to imagine a conflict down the road.
- What if he learns sensitive details about a new business coming to town and is told that if word leaks the business will look elsewhere?
- What if he learns in closed session of trouble within the organization?
- What if he’s asked to vote on whether to support a tax increase measure?
Well, you get the picture… Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on June 18, 2010 at 9:51 am
A friend of mine had a horrible experience with an airline. (I know. Like that makes him special.) So he wrote a letter of complaint, and, this being the 21st century, posted it on his blog and on Facebook.
There is nothing wrong with any of that, as far as I’m concerned. My friend is a travel writer. Nothing wrong with that, either. But I think there is a problem with mixing his vacation complaint with his vocation. My friend started his letter this way:
To whom it may concern:
I am a travel writer…
He goes on to say he is a frequent flyer and a member of the airlines’ premier club. Those are both relevant facts and should be enough to get the airline to act appropriately. (You can read his letter on the link above. Basically, he’s upset that the airline doesn’t have changing tables for babies on all of its airplanes.) … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on February 12, 2010 at 10:21 am
Ever heard of a teenager named Daniel Brusilovsky? He is a tech wizard young enough to still be reading Harry Potter. I think he’s 17, but he’s been on the Silicon Valley scene for ages … at least since 2008 — an eternity in Internet years.
Despite his obvious lack of experience, he was given a lot of responsibility. He has helped start conferences. And, as a writer for TechCrunch, one of the Valley’s most read news blogs, he is in a position to influence some pretty interesting movers and shakers. Or he was.
Turns out Daniel knew more about new technology than old ethical restraints that have traditionally kept journalists in check. And now TechCrunch has fired Daniel. (Interestingly, the blog is now saying Daniel was an intern, but back in the day – as in last week – editors called him, “a writer who also works on events and business development…” I guess you are never too young to be thrown under the bus.)
Daniel’s crime was asking some unknown startup for a new Mac computer in exchange for a favorable post on TechCrunch. (Here’s what he has to say about it all.) You don’t have to know much to know that is unacceptable for any reputable news deliverer… Read the rest of this entry »