Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Does the New York Times Have Trouble with the Word Plagarism?

I am a regular reader of the NYTPicker blog, which covers the good, the bad and the ugly surrounding the Gray Lady. On Feb. 14, the blog mulled the curious case of business reporter Zachery Kouwe after receiving a letter from Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson.

In the letter Thomson said parts of an article written on Feb. 5 by Kouwe were “identical or nearly identical” to an article published by WSJ hours before the NY Times version was printed. After an investigation, Times editors investigated and discovered there were more examples of Kouwe lifting parts from published stories.

On Feb. 15, the NY Times’ Editor’s note acknowledged that Kouwe “appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.” Sounds like plagiarism to me, although that word never appears in the note. When questioned about the status of Kouwe, the paper declined to comment, citing they don’t discuss personnel matters.

Fair enough. But yesterday’s NYTPicker cited a case where Kouwe was condemned for doing something similar in December 2008. So my question is – with all these accusations and pretty substantial proof, why did it take until yesterday for the Times to take action? No, I take that back, because Kouwe ended up resigning yesterday, according to the Times' own story. According to the Times, he was facing “disciplinary action, including dismissal.”

OK, call me cranky, but the first lesson you learn in your journalism class is the definition of plagiarism: “The act of appropriating the literary composition of another author, or excerpts, ideas, or passages therefrom, and passing the material off as one's own creation.” (Cited from The Free Dictionary) And the penalty for plagiarism is immediate firing. Or at least it was back in the day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

NYTPicker Blog Focuses on New York Times Foibles, Errors and Conflicts

For good or bad, blogs -- and free blogging platforms -- have given a voice to a new crop of citizen journalists that focus on everything from the environment to the media. I have become obsessed with reading the NYTPicker blog, written by a group of anonymous journalists who write daily about the good, the bad and the ugly at the Gray Lady.

What makes it so interesting is that they're right about things far more than they're wrong. The Feb. 7 post reports in detail about how the New York Times is handling its coverage on the unfolding Toyota recall scandal. "But what these stories have failed to show is that the NYT been consistently late to report on details of the unfolding scandal," according to the NYTPicker. The blog also details how the New York Times' coverage -- published later than other news outlets -- seems very similar to stories published earlier by the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The Jan. 31 blog post outlines how a "puff piece" Sunday New York Times profile by Andrew Martin on "Richard Eitelberg, the founder and president of Hartsko, a company that lends money to small businesses to tide them over on pending purchase orders," was missing one important fact -- that the subject had pled guilty in May 2003 to felony charges of computer intrusion. "Did Martin had access to information about the case of 'USA vs. Eitelberg' -- which pops up as the lead item in a Google search of 'Richard Eitelberg' -- and choose not to include it, or did the reporter simply fail to adequately research his profile subject? There's been no comment yet from New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty and New York Times business editor Larry Ingrassia to NYTPicker on the story.

But the New York Times did respond to a Dec. 27 post that blasted regular freelance contributor Prof. Mary Tripsas, a business-management expert and member of the Harvard Business School faculty. Tripsas, who studies and writes about customer innovation, wrote a glowing piece on 3M on that very topic. The problem was, noted NYTPicker, Tripsas didn't mention that she and other researchers were flown to St. Paul, Minn., for a visit and picked up the tab on their travel and accommodations, which violates the newspaper's rules. NYTPicker's Jan. 3 post reported that Tripsas was fired, with New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt writing a column calling the situation "an embarrassment" and acknowledging NYTPicker's revelation. The newspaper also issued an editor's note about the situation.

But I also like the fact that NYTPicker is ready to admit when it's wrong, which happened in a Jan. 20 post about the New York Times pay meter story. It will also praise New York Times reporters on their good work, which was the case on the paper's coverage of Haiti in a Jan. 15 post.

The New York Times, like most newspapers, has had to carry out layoffs on the editorial side as it tries to balance keeping its place as one of the world's premier newspapers against the face of continued drops in advertising. It's inevitable that things will fall through the cracks at newspapers, and wecan be sure that blogs like NYTPicker -- unheard of only five years ago, will continue to grow and expand their watchdog role.

Monday, February 8, 2010

MediaShift Offers Keys To Finding That First Journalism Job

In 1985, when Ronald Reagan began his second term as president, the unemployment rate hit 7.4%. There was no Internet, CNN was only five years old and the three main networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- only competed with newspapers on the dissemination of news. 1985 was also the year I started my career, after graduating from American University with my journalism degree.

Now, 25 years later, I have a career that I love and I've had to reinvent myself and how I work to remain relevant -- and employed. I decided to take on a labor of love, reviewing resumes from students and those just starting out who are members of the National Association of Black Journalists.

I had some great people help me out at the beginning of my career, so I strongly believe it's only right to do the same for these young people. Competition is fierce out there, and anything that can give young journalists an edge -- including an employer-friendly resume -- I'm willing to help out.

Which is why I really enjoyed this post -- Flexibility, Freelance Key for Journalism Grads in Tough Job Market -- on PBS's MediaShift blog. It is tough out there, and students need to really think outside the box to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

The MediaShift blog post covered how students are freelancing, volunteering and taking non-traditional jobs as ways to get in -- and stay in - journalism. I see resumes that are full of work done in school. This is a good start, but you need more. Options include freelancing or even volunteering to write for local newspapers or online news sites; starting your own blog on your beat of interest; and going to graduate school.

For those just getting out of school or are stuck in that first job and are ready to move on, research the beats you write about. Are there competing publications or Web sites that may have job openings? Is there a trade association with its own magazine/newsletter/Web site you could write for? Is there an independent online news site (like California Watch, MarylandReporter or Texas Tribune) that you might consider? Is there a way to create your own journalism-based Web site, like what former Washington Times sports reporter Mike Jones has done? These are all options that are available for journalists trying to get their foot in the door.

Do you have any ideas you can share? Let me know in the comments section. And good luck with that job hunt!