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Consider Me Flattered

1/5/11 Update: The Union Leader has responded to my accusations. Please see their “clarification” here.

Before I go too far with this post, let me state the obvious: I love hockey, I love outdoor hockey, and I love when the sport I love gets mainstream media attention. In this world of baseball, football, poker, and doing all sorts of things With The Stars, it’s nice to flip open the newspaper and see skates and sticks as a lead story.

That’s why I was psyched to grab today’s Union Leader, the largest newspaper in my hometown state of New Hampshire, and see Scott Crowder’s smiling mug in the top right hand corner of the sports page. Crowder, creator of the New England Pond Hockey Classic, the Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classic, and the brawn behind the upcoming Manchester Monarchs Pond Hockey Classic, is no stranger to readers of this website. He has done more to bring hockey to the New England outdoors than anyone else I know, and is the essence of what Backyard-Hockey.com is all about.

So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I saw him, decked out in a Bruins jersey and and decades-old leather hockey helmet, next to the lead headline in today’s sports section:

HOCKEY PLAYERS TAKE TO PONDS

A pond hockey story to lead off the day’s sports news? I’ll take that any day of the week. And so I read.

The article started off with news on the second-year NEPHC, scheduled for February 4-6 in Meredith, NH. The tournament’s 2010 iteration was a resounding success, and the article spends a few paragraphs talking about Crowder’s Lakes Region Tourism Award, the growth of this year’s event, and the teams that travel from Florida and Colorado to attend it.

The article then changed the subject to the one-day Manchester Monarchs Pond Hockey Classic tournament that will take place in Manchester, NH, one week later. This is where Backyard-Hockey.com starts feeling awfully flattered. Because of the remaining thirteen paragraphs in the article, eight of them were stolen from this very website.

At this point, I want to take a step back and shed some light on what happens behind the scenes of a typical blog post. On December 20th, after learning of the MMPHC from Crowder, I reached out to Kim Mueller, VP of Public Affairs with the Monarchs. A Manchester native and former Monarchs season ticket holder, I was thrilled that my worlds were converging and that our local AHL team was going to host a pond hockey tournament in my hometown, on the very pond I played on as a child. I was eager to hear what the Monarchs had to say.

Ms. Mueller was kind enough to set up a phone call between myself and Monarchs’ team president, Darren Abbott. That phone call took place on Tuesday, December 21st. I spoke with Darren for just under ten minutes, and we talked about my background, his backyard rink, and of course, the upcoming MMPHC. I recorded our conversation, asked him for his permission to include his words as part of my story, and we hung up. Just as I do whenever I interview someone, I then transcribed the interview. As any writer will tell you, this is often a painstaking task, with spoken conversations zooming much faster than a typists’ fingers. I then wrote the article, complete with Abbott’s quotes, and published it here on Wednesday, December 29th.

I’ve mostly overcome this fear, but there is a certain apprehension that goes along with sharing one’s thoughts online. Without standing next to readers to observe facial expressions as they read, a writer often does not know if people like or care about what they’ve written. But there is also a pride that comes with knowing that people actually read the words that you type. I can’t tell you how incredibly humbled I am to know that for all the time I spend sharing my hockey thoughts with you, that there are thousands of people out there that actually read them. It’s why I write and it’s why this site exists. But on the back end, I also recognize that this readership exists because of the hard work put into each and every sentence by myself and my team of contributors and advisors. Unpaid hard work. Hard work that comes early in the morning, before regular jobs. Hard work that is done late into the night, often after family members are in bed. This is not a complaint — I would not continue to write for this website if I didn’t love hockey and love sharing the game with you. It’s this love, and the subsequent passion I feel from our readership, that makes this all worth it.

But then something like this happens. A professional writer, someone who is paid to write, and someone whose primary paycheck comes from sitting down at a computer to produce written art, takes the very words I crafted (or spent time collecting and transcribing) for his own use. Despite the blatant theft of my hard work, Backyard-Hockey.com is not given any credit in the Union Leader article. All credit is given to the story’s author, Roger A, and two contributing staff reporters, John H and Marc T. I have no idea which one of these three writers is responsible for the use of my work, and it’s entirely possible that two of the writers have no idea that the text was copied (for this reason I’ve chosen to exclude their full names.) But at least one of them does. And it makes me angry.

As of right now, the Union Leader story appears to be print-only. But I purchased an e-copy of today’s edition, screen shots of which can be seen here and here.

If you read both articles, this is what you’ll find.

From Backyard-Hockey.com, 12/29/10:

“The success of the Pond Hockey Classic up in the Lakes Region had us all thinking a little bit,” says Monarchs President Darren Abbott, speaking of the 2010 New England Pond Hockey Classic. “We wanted to do something to show that the Monarchs support all levels of hockey, so we decided to do our own thing.”

From the Union Leader, 1/4/11:

“The success of the Pond Hockey Classic up in the Lakes Region had us all thinking a little bit,” said Darren Abbott, the Monarchs’ team president. “We wanted to do something to show that the Monarchs support all levels of hockey, so we decided to do our own thing.”

Ignoring the typo in my quote, these are pretty similar, no?

From Backyard-Hockey.com, 12/29/10:

The tournament itself will certainly create memories for all who participate, but more importantly, proceeds from the event will be donated to two of the city’s high school hockey programs.

“The public high school hockey programs are in need of some assistance, so we thought that this was one way that we could get the word out about that and raise them some money at the same time,” says Abbott. “We’re hoping to get the high schools involved in the fundraising portion of it as well.”

From the Union Leader, 1/4/11:

While the tournament will create memories for its participants, Abbott said, it also will serve a more important purpose.

“The public high school hockey programs are in need of some assistance,” he said, “so we thought that this was one way that we could get the word out about that and raise them some money at the same time.”

The Monarchs hope to make high school teams active participants in the fund-raising process, Abbott said.

Abbott never said that the tournament will create memories for its participants. I did. If you’re going to steal my work, at least pay attention.

From Backyard-Hockey.com, 12/29/10:

Besides the on-ice action, the Manchester tournament will feature off-ice activities for kids, including an appearance by the team’s popular mascot, Max. There are also talks with local bars and restaurants near Dorrs Pond, and the hope is to offer tournament participants incentives to patronize those establishments.

From the Union Leader, 1/4/11:

Besides the on-ice action, the Manchester tournament will feature office activities for kids, including an appearance by the team’s mascot, Max. For more grown-up activities off the ice, the Monarchs are talking with nearby restaurants and bars about providing incentives for tourney-goers to patronize the establishments.

Office activities for kids, Union Leader? Are they going to ask the kids at a pond hockey tournament to fix a printer jam or refresh the boss’s coffee? I’m confused. It seems that in the process of cutting and pasting from my article, one of your staffers forgot a hyphen. It happens, I guess.

From Backyard-Hockey.com, 12/29/10:

“We’re going to start small this year and grow it in the years to come,” Abbot says. “I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t think it’s a great idea, and I think there’s plenty of room for it here in Manchester. We like to be a part of all things hockey here in New Hampshire, so we want to continue to try to grow the sport, and continue to move it forward.”

From the Union Leader, 1/4/11:

“We’re going to start small this year and grow it in the years to come,” Abbott said. “I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t think it’s a great idea, and I think there’s plenty of room for it here in Manchester. We like to be a part of all things hockey here in New Hampshire, so we want to continue to try to grow the sport and continue to move it forward.”

Apparently I mis-use “says”, where I should be using “said”. I suppose sometimes it takes a professional writer stealing your stuff to learn grammar lessons.

Then, to close off their article, they go back in my story and pull a few lines that I included towards the middle.

From Backyard-Hockey.com, 12/29/10:

Teaming up with the director of the New England and Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classics, Scott Crowder, the Monarchs will host this one-day event on Dorrs Pond in Manchester, NH, on Saturday, February 12th. The layout will be familiar to past PHC participants, with 32 teams of 4-6 players going four-on-four on five 75′x150′ sheets of natural ice. Teams are guaranteed 3 games, with a pair of playoff games possible for the teams with the best record. Registration is $360 per team, and includes a ticket for each team member to the Friday, February 11th Monarchs game, where the event will be recognized.

From the Union Leader, 1/4/11:

Teaming up with Crowder, the Monarchs will host the one-day event, with 32 teams taking part. Teams are guaranteed three games, with a pair of playoff games possible for the teams with the best record.

Registration is $360 per team, and includes a ticket for each team member to the Friday, Feb. 11, Monarchs game at Verizon Wireless Arena, where the event will be recognized.

~

So, what now? I’m certainly not the first blogger whose work has been used in more mainstream print media without attribution. In the hockey universe alone, I can think of a at least three instances where a measly blogger was robbed of his intellectual property in the last two years alone. But that fact doesn’t make me feel any better. How many other bloggers have had their work stolen but never stumbled onto the deceit? How many other articles have the trio above written that include quotes and commentary that were actually written by other people?

I won’t pretend to know the laws on plagiarism by heart. But Plagiarism.org describes the act quite thoroughly:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.

So you be the judge. Did the Union Leader steal or pass off the ideas or words of another as their own? Did they use another’s production without citing their source? Did they turn in someone else’s work as their own? Did they copy words without giving credit? Did they change words while keeping the rest of a sentence intact without giving credit?

The answers are all “yes”. The Union Leader came to this website, stole what they needed, and passed it off as their own work.

There is an ongoing rift between mainstream media and the blogging community, one that up until now I’ve only observed from the sidelines. There is a feeling from many members of the mainstream media that bloggers are nothing but snot-nosed losers, sitting in their parents’ basements, cranking out terrible, error-filled content an arm’s-length from the stories they are paid to cover. There is this notion that it’s ok to disregard bloggers when it comes to citing sources, because after all, they’re just bloggers, and we’re professional writers.

Hell, maybe they’re right. I do write a lot of this website’s content in my basement and I am just getting over a cold. But basement-dwelling or not, snot-nosed or not, bloggers do what we do because we have a passion for the subjects we write about. We share our thoughts with the world because we believe in what we’re doing, and hope that maybe, if we’re lucky, someone out there will read our posts and feel the same way.

This may have been just a ho-hum post about a pond hockey tournament in a small city in New Hampshire. But I put in the work to get that information out to you. The Union Leader did not.

22 comments to Consider Me Flattered

  • So sad to see some pros earning a paycheck off the hardwork of guys like you. I’d write in to the editors of the paper and complain; they might not even know one of their writers stole from you.

  • My first and only question… where is the press release?

  • sorry more commentary… its likely a PR agency grabbed your blog as seed copy and figured they could run with it. If it is from a PR statement you have issue with them, and probably legal recourse, I would call the paper and ask for a copy of the Presser.

  • K G

    You should definitely tell the newspaper about this. I hope they will give you a freelance job! And reprimand the person/people who blatantly stole your work. I’m glad you caught them. Just a note, it seems to say here that you interviewed Abbott on the 31st but published your article on the 29th. Maybe you put one of the dates in wrong?

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Greg Wyshynski, Glenn Giangrande, Justin Aucoin and others. Justin Aucoin said: More MSM plagerizing bloggers. So sad to see some pros earn their paycheck off the works of guys like @BackyardHockey http://bit.ly/hL7JZx [...]

  • Joe

    Thanks KG. I did have the date wrong – I spoke with Mr Abbott on the 21st, not the 31st. I’ve edited the post.

  • mdp

    Nicely said Joey. And you wonder why they are know as The Useless Leader.
    “Call the editor, tell him bulls*%t”…. from slapshot… see I gave them credit.

  • Joe

    @Mike Handy: Thanks for reading and commenting. There was no press release issued by anyone. I spoke directly with Mr. Crowder for the details and Mr. Abbott for the quotes. The Pond Hockey Classic website did link to my story last week, but correctly cites me as the author and directs readers to my page for the full text. Does that help?

  • Bummer. Nice write up about the incident. Here’s hope the shaming becomes very public. Some MSM’ers will never learn.

  • Wow, that’s pretty blatant. They didn’t even try to attribute your quotes (i.e. “QUOTE FROM TEAM PRESIDENT,” said TEAM PRESIDENT to BackyardHockey.com’s Joe Proulx), which makes it even worse.

    If there was a press release and the president gave the exact same quotes, I guess that’s passable, but still questionable. The fact that YOU called and got the quotes yourself, however, makes this a clear-cut case of plagiarism to me.

    If this happened in school, the student would probably get expelled. Since this guy’s a freelancer, something tells me he’s not going to be getting any more assignments, and the Union-Leader needs to step up their screening process.

    Good for you for protecting your work, I hope they run an apology in the paper. I’m a journalism graduate currently on the outside of the industry looking in, but the attitude some of these MSM people have is ridiculous. No wonder so many of the papers are going down the tubes.

  • JustinL

    I’d get some professional advice from a lawyer. Writing into the paper’s editor will do nothing but maybe give this person a slap on the wrist. When a media type such as a newspaper, magazine, etc uses your work you have to think of one major factor: their number of actual circulation. Obviously a larger circulation number would yield a larger penalty.

  • To DanR – expelled? One of my fellow students at the storied University of Michigan did exactly the same thing to me; he was not expelled, he just got a slap on the wrist by the faculty and continued to receive the cushy scholarship…he also “earned” the same degree that I did. Sometimes the people in charge just don’t want to admit they were wrong, I guess.

  • Ahh. I really feel for you. That’s just brutal. It would be one thing if this was something you were being paid for. But it’s not. And because you, like so many other great bloggers, do this for the love of the game, it makes it so much worse.

    One day “journalists” like this will be irrelevant and be forced to start new careers. It’s not much, but try to take solace in that. They are a dying breed and only the good ones will survive.

    Great post and keep up the great work.

  • Jeff

    Joey, I know personally the passion you have for the game, and I’m actually hurt for you. Unfortunately, until bloggers are given similar rights as “journalists,” this won’t be the last time an instance like this happens. Keep strong. People follow your work, including your friends down the street.
    On a side note, I’m impressed you still read the physical newspaper.

  • Barry

    Joe, please read the following post by Suzanne McMinn from her website titled Chickens In The Road – Life In Ordinary Splendor.
    Suzanne is an author and blogger that had copyrighted material (an original photo) lifted from her website and used in another print/online publication without her consent or credit. You should follow her lead and get your just reward. Read the related links to see the final resolution. Fight back!
    http://m.chickensintheroad.com/living/open-letter-to-dave-belanger/

  • Brian J. Harlow

    Joe, I am far from an expert in intellectual property law. I like to consider myself very knowlegable in a few subjects but certainly not an expert. You, on the other hand, are much more important in the hockey world than an expert. Hockey has all the experts it needs. Trends will come and go but how many coaches, managers or coordinators actually revolutionize the game? In the end, who cares? Whenever I read your blog I am reminded of my grandfather and the time he put in with me from a very early age with a baseball in his big hand. No, I didn’t grow up with Hockey as you did. But if the internet existed and baseball blogs were readily available in ’70s, my grandfather and I would’ve made plans based on some blogger’s recommendations in San Diego, Plant City, Fla or maybe even Phoenix. Where my local sandlot tournament is being held and when, a Monday Morning blog on the nostalgic smell of flannel uniforms etc. The point I’m making is that you continue to inspire dads, moms and grandparents to get their little boys and girls on the backyard/pond ice just as they did. They won’t remember most of the kids they rode the bus with, every girl they had a crush on or what the lunch lady’s name was but having a dad, or grandfather, assemble a backyard rink so that they learn from them is truly priceless.
    You had your ideas and words stolen but I’m angry for you just as Jeff is. I know you will continue to blog yet you handled this situation like the gentleman that you are.
    Did Union Leader editor Joe McQuaid know that his sports section stole your ideas? I doubt it. Is he and the paper to be held accountable? Yes, they sure are. In the meantime though, I’m glad that you defended the blog and that your son will know that not only did dad care enough to build him a rink but cares enough to further the game you both love.
    Thanks Joe. And to Hell with The Union Leader.

  • mdp

    Any updates Joey? They sure ignored my e-mail to them.

  • I generally harbor a sort of disdain for media people, who generally seem to possess no other skills to do anything else in life. That’s why you see so many of them launching discrimination lawsuits after termination, essentially saying, “I am unable to do anything else in life aside from the job you just stole from me, so I will sue.” In this case, I’m as angry as you are. This sort of thing probably happens nine or ten times as often, but the episodes go unnoticed or unreported. Kudos for making this a ‘big deal’ and a swift kick in the teeth to the Useless Leader for laziness and arrogance.

  • Annon E. Mous

    The freelancer lost his job over this, ending a 40+ year career, during which he no doubt saw and heard his copy lifted, read and reprinted, without attribution, and certainly no extra pay.

  • Steve

    It’s great to hear the freelancer got canned, because it means the Union Leader has some journalistic ethics. I’m sorry for the guy, but if he’s that experienced, why is he dumb enough to plagiarize?

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