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The Union Leader Responds

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, where I accused New Hampshire’s Union Leader newspaper of plagiarism.

First, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to everyone who has reached out in the last day or so, either by commenting on the story, tweeting it, posting it on facebook, or e-mailing me directly. Some of you have been in my shoes and understand the punched-in-the-gut feeling I experienced yesterday morning. Others just sympathized and offered their support. All of it was very much appreciated.

Shortly after I published yesterday’s post outlining the Union Leader’s cut-and-paste “journalism”, I e-mailed their Vice President of News, Tami Plyler. In my note to her, I expressed gratitude that they would showcase the sport of pond hockey atop their sports page, but also brought to her attention the blatant theft of my intellectual property. I included in my e-mail the following two paragraphs:

I put my heart and soul into my website, a site that pays none of my bills and provides me no income. I do it because I am passionate about hockey, I love the hockey community, and I want to share the sport with the world in the hopes that others can experience the game in the same way I have been fortunate to. To stumble onto my own written words this morning in another publication was both shocking and appalling.

Considering the writers chose not to attribute any of my work to me or my website in today’s edition, here’s what I’d like to see tomorrow: an apology and a correct citation of your source, Backyard-Hockey.com, above the fold on the front page of the sports section. It’s not much to ask, and it’s the right thing to do. I put in the time and effort to gather and produce the information your writers stole, so it’s the least you can do.

Three hours later, I received the following response:

Joe,

We recognize that attribution should have been made. There will be a clarification to that effect on tomorrow’s sports page.

Best,

Tami

My initial reaction, admittedly, was a combination of anger and annoyance. Two sentences? No apology? No expansion of how, exactly, one might “clarify” eight paragraphs of cutting-and-pasting?

But that gave way to the realization that the traditional media versus blogger battle will likely never be won by the latter, and that, after all, she vowed to do what I had asked her to do. Others in my position have had significant difficulty even getting the mainstream media to respond, or to admit their errors.

Then, this morning, their “clarification”:

A few thoughts:

  • I am genuinely pleased that they followed through on their promise. I fully expected to see their “clarification” buried somewhere in the classifieds. Kudos to the UL staff for doing the right thing.

That said…

  • They mis-spelled “entire paragraphs.” They spelled it “i-n-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n.”
  • They seemingly throw the “primary reporter” under the bus for this. As you’ll see in a minute, I have no desire to further pursue this, therefore I won’t name him. But interesting to note that the primary reporter for this story was a correspondent, likely a regional freelancer, where the two other contributors to the story were UL staff writers. I can only speculate, but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for them to be shielding their actual employees in the process of blaming a contractor.
  • Given the fact that the writer clearly cut-and-pasted several paragraphs directly from this website into his article, would it have been kosher had he closed his story with a line like “Backyard-Hockey.com contributed to this article?” Is there a way to properly cite or attribute entire copied sentences (and not the Abbott quotes, but my actual prose)? I honestly don’t know, and perhaps there is. It certainly would have been nice had he at least mentioned us. But I still would have felt a little dirty that he chose to paste them word-for-word rather than simply using my article as a resource and writing his own sentences. I know there are ways to properly cite that.

All in all, this has been an interesting experience. My emotions have gone from anger and betrayal to vengeance and determination to gratitude and an overwhelming feeling that the hockey community is very much alive, close-knit, and willing to back up one of their own. And now, a day later, I’m trending towards apathy. They did it, I proved it, they “clarified.” They didn’t apologize, per se, but they clarified.

I still have some lingering questions, but at this point, I won’t pursue answers. Which of the three writers was the actual cut-and-paster? Will disciplinary action be taken? Is this a common occurrence at the Union Leader? (The blasé tone of Ms. Plyler’s response implies an answer.) And perhaps most significantly, will there ever be a time when mainstream journalists will respect the work of people who write more out of passion than a paycheck?

Who knows? Not I.

Because I’m moving on. That is, after I order some new artwork for my basement wall.

17 comments to The Union Leader Responds

  • Glad to see they saw the err in their ways and gave you credit.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Greg. Greg said: RT @JustinDOY: Update on that Union Leader/Backyard-Hockey.com plagiarism deal http://bit.ly/fL3iLr [...]

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Greg Wyshynski, Joe Proulx. Joe Proulx said: The Union Leader responds to my accusations of plagiarism: http://bit.ly/dMNr3G @DownGoesBrown @wyshynski [...]

  • Eh, that’s kind of a half-assed apology. That apology would’ve been OK if the guy had just taken the quotes, but didn’t he copy your own written sentences too? And they couldn’t have put “Backyard-Hockey.com contributed to this story” at the end without your permission either, or at least that’s the professional way to do it.

    Glad to see you got some kind of apology for it though, even if it seemed begrudging. If nothing else, it probably drove more traffic to your site too.

  • Joe

    Thanks Dan. He did copy my own sentences, which is funny primarily because they were nothing spectacular. But just shows the laziness.

    And yeah, sad fact: this ordeal will likely rank in the top five of my site’s most visited posts when the dust settles. But hey, thanks for the pub, UL.

  • Good for you for fighting for attribution. It’s nice that at a minimum they did the most half-assed job possible. Still more than the Toronto Sun (Dave Fuller and James Wallace) did for us after they lifted an entire translation from our site.

  • Having worked in both print and blog form, I can say that this was as much of an apology as you were ever going to get. The freelancer has likely been blackballed, and the two staffers given a stern warning.

    A newspaper generally would not credit you the way you wish, i.e., with a line like “Backyard-Hockey.com contributed to this article” The “proper” thing for the reporter to do (and I use the term loosely) would have been to call the person you interviewed and either re-interview her and get roughly the same quotes, or just lazily ask her to confirm the quotes in your post. Then, it’s “original reporting” on their part!

    The other cut-and-pasted stuff was just pure laziness. It’s just not that hard to rewrite copy to make it somewhat different.

  • LC

    “They seemingly throw the ‘primary reporter’ under the bus for this. As you’ll see in a minute, I have no desire to further pursue this, therefore I won’t name him. But interesting to note that the primary reporter for this story was a correspondent, likely a regional freelancer, where the two other contributors to the story were UL staff writers. I can only speculate, but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for them to be shielding their actual employees in the process of blaming a contractor.”

    More likely, the staff writers’ “contributions” to the story were similar to your own, as sources of information. (One hopes the primary writer didn’t employ the same cut-and-paste strategy with their previous stories on the subject, but it wouldn’t shock me.)

    One point I’d like to make: although the editor’s e-mail certainly should have included some sort of apology, I see this as simply the work of an unethical writer instead of part of a larger MSM-vs.-bloggers plot. I say this because it happens to us, too: A couple of years ago, one of the local dailies lifted a bylined story of mine from the front page of our weekly newspaper, edited it solely for length, and ran it without attribution, which earned their SE an irate call from my managing editor. (In that respect, you’re one up on me: the SE apologized on the phone, but to the best of my knowledge, they never printed a correction.) We knew they’d done it before, too, taking a different story from a downstate paper’s website a few months earlier. And let’s not forget the ESPNews anchor who, in the finest tradition of radio rip-and-readers everywhere, recently “borrowed” the lede of a Lakers beat writer’s story to introduce a highlights package on that game. Plenty of MSM-on-MSM crime out there.

    Which doesn’t make it any more fun when it happens to you. Props for following up instead of just sitting there and letting them get away with it. Keep doing what you’re doing … and keep watching, too, just to make sure.

  • Justin

    Perhaps they should have sent you the primary journalist’s pay for that day. Or at the very least send you the complimentary “artwork” for your basement wall…

  • The Horn Guy

    At least we can be satisfied with the knowledge that the print media is a dying business.

  • bigyaz

    I’m guessing the correspondent is the culprit; staff writers are far less likely to engage in such shenanigans. Plus, correspondents typically get paid for what they produce, so there is more temptation to lift from other sources.

    As for the mainstream media vs. blogger thing: I guarantee that bloggers copy material they don’t have rights to — both text and especially photos — at a vastly higher rate than in the other direction. It’s just that it doesn’t get widely noticed in a website as obscure as this one.

  • Abe

    Good work following up on this.

    A small note: You should quit writing “cut and paste,” when you mean “copy and paste.” To cut and paste is to remove it from the original.

  • AM

    The reality is there is exactly one way to properly cite entire passages lifted from source material: Quote it. Directly. If the UL had done that, it’d be in the clear. Anything short of that is simple thievery, and even with their pathetic excuse for a “clarification,” they’ve come nowhere near close to actually atoning. This is an unacceptable breach of ethics by a well-known paper, and I just hope the story gets out and spreads like wildfire. Heads should be rolling at the UL, but they won’t because the material was lifted from a blog. Simple as that. Keep up the good work.

  • [...] Backyard Hockey blog found that the Manchester (NH) Union Leader lifted passages from one of its posts and got the newspaper to admit what it [...]

  • ns

    This is copyright infringement as much as it is plagiarism, and you do have a legal case.

    It’s a hassle going the legal route…but you can make threats that you can back up.

    This happened to me…shoot me a private email if you want.

  • Good for you for getting credit for your story. I find it un-real how people can just steal others work and take credit for it. I enjoy reading your articles. Good for you. Huge Hockey Fan! Best of Luck

  • Vito

    Well done. Keep up the great work. Makes you wonder how many other stories in the newspapers are stolen.

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