Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Plagiarism's Hidden Agenda

Today’s three-column business page item, “Mid-Florida Regional MLS goes public,” carries the byline of Stephen Lingley, a writer presented as a “guest columnist.” The look and feel of Lingley’s article – on the Venice Gondolier business page, with a photo, byline, and a little paragraph about the writer (“outgoing president of the Venice Area Board of Realtors) – suggests in every way possible that Lingley wrote the column.

He didn’t. It’s an abbreviated version of a Web page posted last month by Mid-Florida Regional Multiple Listing service. Here's the evidence -- but the crime goes beyond the mere copying of words.
MFRMLS: More than 80% of homebuyers start their home search online.
Lingley: More than 80 percent of homebuyers start their home search online.
MFRMLS: Increasingly, 3rd party services are taking over the top search engine spots for the most relevant search terms.
Lingley: Increasingly, third-party services are taking over the top search engine spots for the most relevant search terms.
MFRMLS: Realtors who wish to take advantage of 3rd party services such as Yahoo Real Estate, Cyberhomes,, Trulia, and Zillow often find it can get very expensive.
Lingley: Realtors who wish to take advantage of 3rd party services such as Yahoo Real Estate, Cyberhomes,, Trulia, and Zillow often find it can get very expensive.
And so on. You get the idea. But there's more going on here than garden variety plagiarism.

A local real estate agent – president of his professional group, no less – appropriates a chunk of promotional literature without disclosing its source or origin to readers. The verbiage surely has been freely offered up by the nice MLS folks. After all, the words promote their services and members, Lingley’s little column gets out the MLS message, and the nicely placed spot doesn’t cost the organization a dime in advertising. It is pure agenda disguised as news.

Is it plagiarism? Technically, yes. Lingley presents the work of others as his own. But the sin is more venial than word theft. Lingley and the Gondolier “editors” (I’ll be generous, here), have hidden the origin and purpose of the information. Sure, it’s a “column” and free to be as biased as it wants. The trouble is, no one is telling readers the bias cloaks an MLS marketing agenda.

What Lingley omits from his carefully snipped column are the parts that go like this: is not nearly as powerful as MLXchange. Consumers have access to only a handful of the search criteria available in MLXchange, which means as a REALTOR® you have the power to deliver much more highly-targeted results to your clients than the consumer website can. is really meant to be a first stop for homebuyers, a place where they can get a feel for what they want and establish a relationship with a REALTOR®. Once that relationship is established, they are most likely to begin relying on your expertise, on your IDX website, and on the custom agent web page that you provide
The Gondolier has been covering recent controveries surrounding government in the sunshine in Our Little Town. Old Word Wolf suggests editors examine the concept of journalism in the sunshine and spike these thinly veiled ads.


  1. 70. The number of days before the Gondolier announces they are ceasing publication?

  2. What's saddest about this running forecast is that no one really wants to see the death of another newspaper. There's a big demand for news and quality journalism in a town whose age-demographic remains among the top readers and subscribers to newsprint.

  3. GondopantsonfireThu Nov 06, 10:17:00 AM

    Throwing any and all promotional and free writing into your newspaper with disregard for its accuracy or its interest and relevance to your readers and community as a whole is not a plan for success.

    Many small weekly newspapers are not only surviving during this economic decline but increasing circulation and profits.

    “Community newspapers are doing well because they provide much needed hyper-local news and advertising,” said Suburban Newspapers of America President Nancy Lane on Aug. 13, 2008.

    "Editors" who fail to adapt, provide quality content and design, and engage their readers and community are costing their newspapers circulation and as a result, ad revenue.

    They can sit on their butts and blame the ad people, or work hard and make their newspapers a must read in their local communities.

    Try as they may, they cannot deny responsibility for their inaction that results in the decline of their newspapers.

  4. I guess I'm naive. What does "70" in the first comment mean? Did I miss something? Is the Gondo gonna shut down or is this speculation?

    Second comment reflects my feelings. Nothing could be sadder than the death of a once-great newspaper. But where does this info come from?

  5. OWW

    The guys you are dealing with are people that would raise hell if you had written "realtor" instead of Realtor with the trademark symbol, but not worry about a little plagiarizing.

    Bad newspapers with bad journalism are like bad restaurants with bad food.

    They close.

  6. @SteveA -- about that Realtor/realtor thing: I lower-case deliberately. No marketing agency should dictate a newspaper's style. Reputable newspapers don't do BlackBerry, Macy*s, Yahoo!, etc. If an "editor" objects, I just change them all to "broker."

  7. Being a Realtor myself, I can only guess that you're a Realtor that has one of those, "TheMLS" websites designed to snare unknowing consumers looking for a single source of listing info for your own self serving gain. Plagerism? maybe. Evil intent,"MLS marketing agenda"? Give me a break.

  8. If anonymous who posted about the "TheMLS" was referring to me and my comment. I am not a realtor, don't know what a "TheMLS" website comment means, and was not referring to or being critical of realtors only making a comparison about what this newspapers owners priorities.