Monday, March 26, 2012

Another serial plagiarist editor uncovered—O, Canada!

Normally, readers who visit this blog Monday morning find a new post making fun of manly hygiene products or a funny photo I've taken locally. But today, unfortunately, I have a more serious subject on my mind.

A few weeks ago, I read with disgust that humor/travel writer Dave Fox discovered an editor at a Midwestern newspaper, Jon Flatland, had been plagiarizing his writing and the writing of many other writers.

I write a weekly humor column myself, for several newspapers in Southern California. I also post it here on the "Wa" blog, and I got curious. So I did what Fox had done—I began to Google unique phrases from my own online columns to see if anyone had been plagiarizing me.

How does the saying go? Don't start looking if you are not prepared for what you might find?

In a bizarre repetition of Fox's discovery, I too found I had been plagiarized by an editor. In May 2011, Steve Jeffrey, the editor/publisher of a community weekly called "The Anchor" in Chestermere, Alberta, a suburb of Calgary, passed off my writing as his own. My column, but printed under his name and smiling photo.

Apparently we humor columnists are closet investigative journalists, because like Dave Fox, I began to dig deeper. 

"The Anchor" has online archives which go back a year. I searched 52 issues using the same process, and I discovered that I was not the only writer whose work Jeffrey was using under his own byline in his weekly column, "Sittin' in the Lighthouse." In all, I found 41 evidently plagiarized columns by 14 different humor writers in the past 12 months.

I say "evidently" only because I have not communicated with all 13 of the other writers yet, so I do not frankly know if they each sold their writing to Mr. Jeffrey with the understanding that, as part of the deal, he would be posting it under his own name and photo.

It seems, to be charitable, unlikely, however. I certainly made no such deal.

(To be entirely accurate, there were 42 instances when Jeffrey's "Lighthouse" column used content from sources not his own, not 41. But on June 23 and October 27 of 2011, for some reason, he printed the same co-opted column.) 

According to his bio, Jeffrey has been publishing "The Anchor" since 2000. I did not have access to "The Anchor" print archives prior to March 2011, so I do not know whether this evident plagiarism jag began suddenly last March or existed before. 

But wasn't it Sigmund Freud, or Dr. Laura, who said "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior"? I am not speculating, mind you. Forty-two smoking guns is enough for this cowboy.

I did not contact Mr. Jeffrey to ask him how my column, "Sick of standardized Testing? Bubble THIS in," ended up printed under his name and photo in "The Anchor" on May 19, 2011. 

I did not contact him to ask why 25 of my friend Sheila Moss's columns ended up under his name and photo in "The Anchor." Or the columns of 12 other humor writers who range geographically from Newfoundland to Australia.
 
Perhaps someone in the media who is, unlike me, an actual investigative journalist will ask him that.

The most bizarre thing to me is that an editor would be unwilling to pay the $10-20 most humor columnists would charge a publication of this size (10,000 circulation) for a column. 

I cannot understand how Mr. Jeffrey came to conclude that that was money worth saving.

My wife teaches high school English. When one of her students is caught plagiarizing, he is given a stern warning about ethics and the concept of "original thought." If that same student is caught a second time, he is dropped from the class cold, with an "F" on his permanent record. 

I have to wonder what punishment somebody who plagiarizes 42 times deserves.

. . .

Below are just a few sample paragraphs comparing the original material by my fellow humor writers and the material appearing in "The Anchor" in the past year.



[Update: this column was posted at 6 a.m. Pacific on March 26, 2012. The "Anchor" back issue archives, which are linked below, were removed from public view around 7 a.m. I have, of course, backup copies on file.—George]

Original column from me, here at The Wa Blog, "Sick of standardized testing? Bubble THIS in," posted originally Jan. 15, 2008:
"My kids, before their schooling is done and they begin their inevitable careers as underpaid but highly esteemed bloggers, will have endured, at a minimum, the STAR test, CAT/6, SAT, CAHSEE, and quite possibly the TACHS, COOP, SSAT, ISEE, SHSAT, the FAB 4 and the Dave Clark 5."

From Steve Jeffrey's "Sittin' in the Lighthouse" column in "The Anchor," May 19, 2011:

"My kids, before their schooling is done and they begin their inevitable careers as underpaid but highly esteemed bloggers, will have endured, at a minimum, the STAR test, CAT/6, SAT, CAHSEE, and quite possibly the TACHS, COOP, SSAT, ISEE, SHSAT, the FAB 4 and the Dave Clark 5."
. . .

Original column from Sheila Moss, Humorcolumnist.com, "OED Says OMG, FYI, LOL OK," copyright 2011:

From Steve Jeffrey's "Sittin' in the Lighthouse" column in "The Anchor," March 31, 2011:

"We tweet on Twitter, but tweets are tweets, not twits, which are still very foolish people. Of course, that could all change the next time the OED is updated. Maybe FYI, OMG, and LOL are not so bad after all."
. . .



Although those examples are from 2011, this is not something which stopped awhile back. Readers of last Thursday's (March 22, 2012) "Anchor" will discover the text of Sheila Moss's column "It's a social media world" in Mr. Jeffrey's "Lighthouse" column.

I will not post all 42 links here for comparison. Each one is basically as similar as the three above, although Jeffrey did occasionally change a few words in some columns to make certain references local to Canada and the like. 

But just so you know I am not making that number, 42, up—last week, anticipating that the links to the archive of back "Anchor" issues might not be up long after this story appeared, I sent the list of comparison links to Andrew Beaujon at Poynter.org.

I wanted a pair of independent, professional-journalist eyes to verify my findings. (See Poynter today for Andrew's own article on this topic.) 

But here, at least for as long as the links are still live, are comparisons between content from the other 11 writers involved and content from "Sittin' in the Lighthouse" in "The Anchor" over the last year:

[Update: this column was posted at 6 a.m. Pacific on March 26, 2012. The "Anchor" back issue archives, which are linked below, were removed from public view around 7 a.m. I have, of course, backup copies on file.—George]


Russell Wangersky: "Gone fishin,'" The Telegram (St. John's, Newfoundland),  July 5, 2008:

Steve Jeffrey's version, June 9, 2011:

. . .

Man Martin, SouthernHumorists.com, "Home Repair":

Steve Jeffrey's version, June 16, 2011:

. . .

Joe Lavin, "Step away from the Internet," joelavin.com, Sept. 13, 2005:

Steve Jeffrey's version, June 23, 2011:

. . .

John Brock, "Blue tooth technology enters my limited world of modernity," The Southern Observer, January 9, 2008:

Steve Jeffrey's version, June 30, 2011:

. . .

John Martin, "Rebel with a pause," dunno.com, Sept. 10, 2002:

Steve Jeffrey's version, July 7, 2011:

. . .

Jason Love, "So it goes - driving," Foolish Times, June 1, 2009:

Steve Jeffrey's version, July 14, 2011:

. . .

Erik Deckers, "Which part of No don't you understand?" Laughing Stalk, 2003:

Steve Jeffrey's version, August 25, 2011:

(Poor Erik. He was already plagiarized by Jon Flatland, and now this. I guess this is what you call, um, "broad appeal"?)

. . .

Ed Smith, "One born every minute," The Telegram (St. John's, Newfoundland), July 19, 2008:

Steve Jeffrey's version, Sept. 1, 2011:

. . .

Laura B. Randolph, "The spirit of crassness," Ebony magazine, Jan. 1995

Steve Jeffrey's version, Dec. 15, 2011:

. . .

Daron Williams, The Collegiate Times (Virginia Tech), "Dare to wish someone a Merry Christmas," Dec. 8, 2008:

Steve Jeffrey's version, Dec. 22, 2011:

. . .

Bill Westcott, NL News, "Long live our weekly and monthly newspapers," March 4, 2008:

Steve Jeffrey's version, Jan. 19, 2012:

. . .

Several friends have suggested I should be flattered that somebody considered my writing worth stealing. It's a joke. I get it. But here's the thing—usually after an editor publishes the writing I spent days crafting, writing that is printed with my own name on it, he pays me. 

That is really all the flattery I need.

George Waters

Sheila Moss responds to the theft of 25 of her columns.

Then this saga continues here.


. . .

7 comments:

  1. That's horrible. I'm glad you brought the fraud to light.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great job George. You are a true columnist detective.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Perhaps you didn't hear about this nightmare of plagiarism?: http://www.amalah.com/amalah/2012/03/to-whom-it-may-concern.html

    She did something about it and the thief in question was fired and raked over many coals on Twitter. Her footprint on Google will forever be a muddy one. Speak up!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, George. Ashamed to admit Steve was my editor last summer during a four-month internship. Very disappointed to say the least.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow! it is incredible that someone would be so blatant over and over again.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I live in Chestermere since 2006. The Anchor is (was?) delivered for free, weekly, to every house in Chestermere. I couldn't believe what I read this morning, I am utterly disgusted... If there is one column I used to read every time, it was "Sittin' in the lighthouse". How could he???

    Ugh. Yuck. What a rat (by the way: rats are illegal, in Alberta. Isn't it ironic? LOL!)

    Nicole

    ReplyDelete
  7. I, too, have been a long time resident in the Chetermere area, since 1998. "Sittin' in the Lighthouse" was also one of my favourite, regular reads, and knowing Steve, sounded just like the humourously-curmudgeonly type that he has come portray himself in person. Sorry to hear that this has happened. I have worked in the newspaper business in my past and know this is unacceptable.
    I hope those affected can find some resolution.

    ReplyDelete