Slate, before I went on holiday, had a story about a huge, huge load of plagiarism done at the Montgomery County Bulletin, which I think you could justifiably call a small newspaper – 20,000 circulation, the sort of thing that basically lets hairdressers and double-glazing companies get a good place to advertise, and wraps some decent text around it – from Slate and loads of other places.
I read the Slate piece, and thought that while the writer was on the money – sure, he was being ripped off – that the examples weren’t so egregrious.
Yes, I know, this might sound rather contradictory in the light of stuff I’ve written in the past. But then again, the US is a big place, there are local papers and there are internet operations, and the ripoffs were actually constructive ones – they patched together parts of different stories to create a gestalt.
And then you read The Houston Press’s “Hairballs” (couldn’t they have come up with a better name – and a different name than “Hair Balls”? At least run it together into one word?) blog. Where you learn that this ongoing saga has a bad ending: the newspaper is being shuttered. Mike Ladyman, the editor-publisher of the MCB, said he didn’t want to have to deal with all the hassle.
And Mark Williams, who wrote the offending (but far from offensive) articles?
Williams wrote three stories a week for the Bulletin: the feature story, the Bullpen and the music. He was paid seven cents a word for the feature and then $125 for the other two combined.
Williams then writes an open letter to
Jay Jody [oops, sorry, Jay] Rosen, who felt this was sooo bad as to constitute “the greatest case of plagiarism”. Here’s part of it; for the whole, do go to the Houston Press blog.
You have done an exemplary job of exposing the seedy underbelly of duplicitous small town weekly newspapers and the evil doers that run them. You have indeed brought us to our knees.
I sincerely apologize for my crimes against you and any perceived damage done to your person or your career accomplishments. It was never my intention to cause you harm. The article in question was included in other press materials I had received via e-mail. I used parts of the article as background and did so thinking it was cleared for such use; but, as you have so subtly pointed out, I was mistaken.
Of course, you are certainly owed an apology, but one has to ponder for a moment just why that is; after all, you have most definitely garnered the attention of the bloggers that you evidently crave in abundance with this manufactured scandal. So my advice, if I may offer a small slice, is to enjoy the spotlight while it is yours — have yourself a ball! You are the victor, so do enjoy the spoils.
It must have taken years of seasoned investigative know-how to push me off my lofty perch. It takes a dogged, intrepid journalist to expose the alleged wrongdoings of a 44-year-old college dropout who drifted from one lousy media job to another for 20 years; it takes courage to debase someone with a mouthful of cut-rate dentures who, up until 2007, lived in his parents’ home for seven years due to near-fatal bouts of clinical depression; it takes a journalist of a certain caliber to torpedo a pathetic hack who has barely squeezed out a living for nearly a decade at seven cents a word.
Savor your moment in the sun, Mr. Rosen. You win, we cry uncle. However, one salient point must be clarified at this time. According to your cleverly titled article on this situation, you stated that you contacted our daily newspaper of record for help in this matter; the very fact that you would refer to our daily newspaper of record as “reputable” is a source of amusement to our evil little weekly rag. In the last year alone, the newspaper in question has published front page articles accusing certain public officials of malfeasance, only to retract those allegations a day or two later. Ironically enough, that same newspaper has, on at least two occasions, shamelessly pilfered from our publication. Bet they didn’t mention that when you called them, huh?
The question one has to ask is, how would you act if you found someone had done the same? I just don’t think I’d write a vast expose like that. And if a local freesheet was ripping off my stuff, well, I guess that would be annoying. But the greatest case of plagiarism ever? Nah. Worth a big spread, passing on to other papers? Nah.
Ironically, when I was on holiday I read a John Grisham novel – The Last Juror (I didn’t buy it; my wife got it free on a magazine) – which is all about a small-town newspaper that is bought by a 23-year-old cub reporter (whose aunt has the necessary money) and who turns it into a big moneyspinner.
Then again, the character there writes tons of it himself. It’s all set before the internet. Even so, he’s not getting 7c per word..