When Steve Ladurantaye woke up at 6 am on Thursday, January 3, he found a short press release waiting for him in his inbox. It was a minor thing, five sentences, in which UK-based Entertainment One noted that Canada's Competition Bureau had opted not to intervene in its proposed purchase of Canadian company Alliance Films. As one of The Globe And Mail's media reporters, Ladurantaye had tracked the story for several months and decided to write up something quick about this latest development. His seven-paragraph report was posted on the Globe's website at 9:09 am.
When Steve Ladurantaye woke up at 6 am on Friday, January 4, he found a short article on page B3 of the Toronto Star. It was a minor thing, nine paragraphs, in which business reporter Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew gave an account of the same eOne/Alliance development. "The only reason I read it was 'cause I had already read the Globe and knew we didn't run it [in the paper]," says Ladurantaye, "so I was surprised when I saw that they ran it, so I was worried that they had something that I didn't [have] that merited running it, right?" Instead of finding exclusive new information, however, he discovered a word of peculiar familiarity.
The Globe story contained this sentence:
Its parent company Alliance Atlantis Communications was acquired by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and CanWest Global Communications Corp. in 2007, but was orphaned when Goldman sold the partnership's broadcasting properties to Shaw Communications Inc. following CanWest's bankruptcy.
The Star story contained these sentences:
It was previously owned by Alliance Atlantis Communications, which was acquired by Goldman and CanWest Global Communications Corp. in 2007. But Alliance became an orphan when Goldman sold the partnership's broadcasting properties to Shaw Communications Inc. following CanWest's bankruptcy.
"The only reason I noticed anything was 'cause of the word 'orphaned,'" Ladurantaye tells me. "I said they had been 'orphaned' by Canwest or something like that, and this was kind of a weird phrasing. And I think it was doubly noticeable because I think an editor actually put that word in. So, and I remember thinking, like, 'orphan,' ooh, that's a weird word." He went back and reread the Star story.
His own piece included this passage:
The company will have a combined library of more than 23,000 films including megahits such as the Twilight series, Looper, Pulp Fiction, The King's Speech and The Hunger Games.
The Star piece, originally published online roughly eight hours after the Globe's, included this passage:
Its combined library will include more than 23,000 films, including the blockbuster Twilight series, Pulp Fiction, The King's Speech and The Hunger Games.
When he got in to work that morning, Ladurantaye asked his editors whether he should bother doing anything about the suspiciously similar paragraphs. They suggested he send an email to Toronto Star public editor Kathy English. "And the note just basically said, like, these seem to be fairly similar, just thought I'd point it out. And, I mean, to her credit, she got back to me instantly. And the whole thing was dealt with within hours, with an apology on the website. The efficiency was pretty impressive."
The apology went up on the Star's site late that afternoon and was published in the following day's newspaper. A notice was also appended to the article online (whose Globe-cribbing paragraphs were removed), as well as to the version of the story archived in the ProQuest periodical database. Almost immediately, Poynter.org's Craig Silverman, who tracks media errors and corrections, did a blog post about it.
But not only did Acharya-Tom Yew's story not credit the Globe, it also failed to credit the wire sources that English stated she used. And indeed, two and a half paragraphs of the eOne article appear to have been taken from the Canadian Press report on the same matter. Nowhere in or around the piece, online or in print, is there any indication that material was drawn from their files.
Another recent story by the same writer (a late-December bulletin about RIM stocks) also appears to have borrowed liberally from the Canadian Press without credit; a further paragraph seems to have come from Bloomberg News, prior to Bloomberg receiving credit for different material toward the very end.
It's conceivable, Ladurantaye speculates, that a journalist accustomed to employing the words of wire services without attribution might one day slip up and do the same with passages taken from something other than a wire service.
But the other question is whether excerpting a wire piece without offering proper credit might itself be an act of plagiarism.
The Star defines plagiarism as "the unattributed use of material from another published source."To be clear: I think wire copy does need to be attributed clearly and generously, either within the text, in a credit line - or often, both, depending on the context and extent of material used.If there is any confusion in the Star's newsroom about this, this needs to be spelled out clearly and steps taken to make sure reporters are properly attributing from wires.The Star is continuing to look into this further.
"They're just so insignificant, it's not like it was some great insight that was borrowed," laments Ladurantaye. "It was just literally run-of-the-mill daily journalism."
Update (1/17/2013, 4:15 PM): Kathy English has gotten back in touch to let us know that iThenticate is the plagiarism-detection service to which the Star has purchased a subscription. (She had earlier been unsure whether that was information she was allowed to divulge.)