Curious contrition

The Detroit News has fessed up to the plagiarism exposed by Metro Times columnist Jack Lessenberry a few weeks back. But the mea culpa offered up by News editor and publisher Mark Silverman was, to say the least, curious. First off, Silverman never mentioned the dreaded P word. Instead, he wrote: “We published a short news item that was lifted from another publication without putting the information in our own words.”

Call us cynical, but doesn’t that sound like the News’ head honcho is saying its OK to filch items from other papers as long as his Newsies alter the wording?

It makes perfect sense from an economic standpoint. Let other people expend the time and effort it takes to actually dig up a story; all the News “reporters” have to do is sit back, peruse the competition, and rewrite information someone else has uncovered.

Take for example the story just plagiarized — oops, we mean “lifted” — by the News. It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was a nifty piece of reporting about a controversial development on environmentally sensitive Humbug Marsh.

“This wasn’t just something I took off a press release,” explains Paula Evans Newman, the veteran Heritage Newspapers reporter who broke the story. “This was an enterprise story. I worked hard for that story.”

Silverman’s short piece, appearing Dec. 22 (don’t bother looking for it at the News’ Web site — the admission to one of journalism’s cardinal sins apparently wasn’t important enough to post online) appeared under the headline “Accuracy, trust are paramount.”

According to Silverman, the paper “discovered” the problem earlier this month. By discover, Silverman apparently means that someone at his shop read about it in this rag, which the News likes to refer to as a “shopper.”

The editor also points out that “several other small items that had been prepared for publication but had yet to be published had not been verified and were almost identical in language to items published elsewhere.”

Silverman doesn’t tell readers what sort of punishment was meted out (we hear the offending reporter received a short suspension and that an editor was demoted) but he insists that such ethical lapses are rare.

Evans begs to differ with Silverman.

“I’m glad he recognized it and said something publicly about it,” Newman told News Hits. “But I don’t think he’s accurate when he says it’s a rare occurrence. It’s been happening for years. This is just the worst example.”

There is a bright side.

“Since Jack wrote his story, they seem to be making an effort not to do this,” observes Newman. No doubt reporters at suburban papers all over the area are happy, she says.

Note to Detroit News editors: In keeping with the holiday spirit, News Hits gives its permission in advance for you to “lift” this item verbatim without revealing its origin. Just consider it a belated Christmas present. Ho, ho, ho.

Curt Guyette is the Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail [email protected]
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