Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year in Plagiarism

Citizen journalism is risky business. In 45 painful inches, Charlotte Sun publishers and editors this morning demonstrate just how risky.

Launching the newspaper’s New Year in community journalism, Sun Correspondent Jana Lynn Filip commits blatant plagiarism, employs cut-and-paste writing assembly, and engages in toadyism instead of journalism. She buries the news lead, fails to attribute, relies on clich├ęs, and expresses personal opinions. Completing the array of sins, Filip reports two different days for a congressman’s local visit. About the only journalistic sin Filip does not commit in “Work quietly continues on outdoor drama” (Our Town, page 4) is libel, which might be attributable to her urge to promote and pontificate rather than any skill at reporting what should have been an important and interesting community story.

That’s Old Word Wolf’s editorial. Here are the facts, starting with Filip’s plagiarism.

Scott Parker, Director of the Institute of Outdoor Drama, which is part of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, writes a nice overview of the place that outdoor drama holds in American culture. Professor Parker's essay is available on the Web. Just for fun, Old Word Wolf will alternate his paragraphs with those that appear under the by-line of Jana Lynn Filip.

--Professor Parker writes:The recent cultural explosion, with its increased public interest in heritage tourism and the awareness across the nation of the might of the tourist dollar, has caused an increasing number of communities to focus attention on developing an increased number of vital regional dramas in the form of outdoor historical plays.
--Sun Correspondent Filip copies: The recent cultural explosion, with its increased public interest in heritage tourism and the awareness across the nation of the might of the tourist dollar, has caused an increasing number of communities to focus attention on developing an increased number of regional dramas in the form of outdoor historical plays.
[snip]
--Professor Parker writes: Across the nation more than 100 outdoor theatres are in production this summer: 45 produce outdoor historical dramas, 65 are Shakespeare festivals, and 11 theatres produce religious dramas. Five of these are new outdoor dramas in such places as New Mexico, Oregon, California and Utah.
--Sun Correspondent Filip copies: Across the nation, more than 100 outdoor theaters are currently in production: 45 produce outdoor historical dramas, 65 are Shakespeare festivals and 11 theaters produce religious dramas. Five of these are new outdoor dramas in such places as New Mexico, Oregon, California and Utah.
[snip]
--Professor Parker writes: The outdoor dramas, which employ thousands of college and professional performers each season, have been pioneers in non-profit theatrical arts development. Most have been produced by cooperative organizational efforts of local citizens, foundations, and government on a non-commercial basis. These dramas have been produced out of community desire to commemorate the past and rededicate the future through theatre.
--Sun Correspondent Filip copies: Outdoor dramas, which employ thousands of college and professional performers each season, have been pioneers in nonprofit theatrical arts development. Most have been produced by cooperative organizational efforts of local citizens, foundations and government on a non-commercial basis. The dramas have been produced out of community desire to commemorate the past and rededicate the future through theater.

--Professor Parker writes: As they reach for a tourist audience, which means survival and continued community support in areas where their plays could not otherwise exist on a long time basis, the outdoor drama workers know that their real success is not monetary. It rests with their ability to emotionally touch the audiences. They must do so to such a degree that the outdoor experience in theatre has meaning -- understanding, clarity -- what you will. If there is no empathy, there will be no audience next year.
--Sun Correspondent Filip copies: As a reach [sic] for a tourist audience, which means survival and continued community support in areas where plays could not otherwise exist on a long-term basis, the outdoor drama workers know that they real success is not monetary. It rests with their ability to emotionally touch the audiences.

--Professor Parker writes: These audiences are Americans extroverted enough to send men to the moon, and the plays written for them had better meet them on their own ground.
--Sun Correspondent Filip copies: These audiences are Americans extroverted enough to send men to the moon, and the plays written for them had better meet them on their own ground.

The tone and sentence style of Filip’s piece change abruptly, as she begins copying from Wikipedia’s entry filed under “Drama.” (Professional copy editors would notice the style change immediately and go on the alert. Spell-check software and Quark page designers are not, in OWW's opinion, capable of this task.)

--The Wikipedians write: Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. It is derived from a Greek word meaning “action.”
--And Filip copies: Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. It is derived from a Greek work [sic] meaning “action.”

--The Wikipedians write: Dramas are performed in various media: theater, radio, film, and television. Drama is often combined with music and dance.
--And Filip copies: Dramas are performed in various media: theater, radio, film, and television. Drama is often combined with music and dance.

--The Wikipedians write: The usual purpose of drama is entertainment. However drama can also be used as an educational activity or for therapeutic purposes. [...] It has a unique ability to allow us to allow us to play. This is what makes drama a useful way of teaching, learning, and growing as a person. Drama has a holistic way of teaching people. [...] participants learn through interactions with others. Every interaction with another character or situation gives a greater understanding of what is happening around us.
--And Filip copies: The usual purpose of drama is entertainment; however drama can also be used as an educational activity or for therapeutic purposes. It has a unique ability to allow us to allow us to play. This is what makes drama a useful way of teaching, learning and growing as a person. Drama has a holistic way of teaching people. Participants learn through interactions with others. Every interaction with another character or situation gives a greater understanding of what is happening around us.

--The Wikipedians write: If you look at a small child when they are playing, they are enthralled with their own world, and through their actions and thoughts and they way they play they learn about themselves, others, and the world around them. [...] When people grow up, the idea of play becomes less important and entering into the imagination becomes more difficult. However this is where drama has the unique and undeniable ability to help others learn and grow as individuals, as it allows them to play.
--And Filip copies: If you look at a small child when they are playing, they are enthralled with their own world, and through their actions and thoughts and they way they play they learn about themselves, others, and the world around them. When people grow up, the idea of play becomes less important and entering into the imagination becomes more difficult. However this is where drama has the unique and undeniable ability to help others learn and grow as individuals, as it allows them to play.

--The Wikipedians write: In the theater, drama is a living, breathing art form.
--And Filip copies: In the theater, drama is a living, breathing art form.

About half way through the article, Filip abruptly changes the writing style and tone as she reaches for a local angle in the ninth paragraph. Someone is trying to build an outdoor ampitheater in Lake Placid and would like government money to help in the project.

Unfortunately, Filip hopelessly snarls the storyline. She introduces a “consulting manager” with a “strong vision” to set up a 1999 (yes, nine years ago) legislative request, which in turn moves the reader into a mish-mash of funding figures. Filip summarizes the project’s current state – scraped dirt roadbeds and a dug well – and then tacks on an unnamed someone’s hope to mount a dramatic production on the site next November. The consulting manager is once again invoked for her own level of drama – she has a big announcement but Filip coyly reports she is unable to “divulge the content.”

Correspondent Filip then again changes the style, tone and story line, rounding up canned phrases from Rep. Tim Mahoney’s Web site. She uncritically inserts the 16th District’s Democratic congressman's self-serving phrases about bridging agriculture and the environment and restoring the Everglades. Why? Because, readers finally learn, Mahoney himself plans to visit the future ampitheater’s site “in an effort to help obtain federal funding.” At last, the news, buried in the 18th paragraph. Well, sort of. Filip’s story says the pol’s appearance will be Sunday and the large photo’s cutline next to the story says his visit will be Friday.

Back to OWW's editorial: Journalism, reporting and editing require skill, professionalism and smarts. Publishing a community bulletin board and penny advertiser don't. The Lake Placid ampitheater story is a great story, one that has the potential to engage the community and surrounding towns. A local home for Florida heritage drama is a truly exiciting idea and one worthy of of some pork-barrel earmarked funding. But instead of putting the story in the hands of a trained journalist, the publishers seem content to run with any old bit of trash a local booster shoves over the transom.

Why?

Our Town’s Page One Banner Story this morning is Laura Schmid’s weather report. Editor Schmid tells readers local temperatures are poised to descend to remarkable lows for these parts. All fine and good, but the the reporter fails to report that most important of journalism’s W’s: why. Will area temperatures plunge to 28 degrees because of global warming, a cold front, tropical bands gone bad or the sudden release of frozen nitrogen from Boca Grande fish coolers? It’s a small point, but journalism does have standards. Except at the DeSoto Sun.

Why Not?
Tuesday weather update: The cold front has not arrived and no one has died. Yet Charlotte Sun Editors, crystal-ball gazers one and all, have hit the Web to predict deaths: “Countdown underway to deadly deep freeze

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