Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Benefits of Plagiarism: M.D. Version

One of the benefits of plagiarism is you don't have to work hard to do it. It's easy to visit the Internet, and using any number of search engines, type in the title of an article that you would write if you had time. Let's use the phrase "the benefits of a colonoscopy" as an example.
Once an article by that title pops up in your search engine results, you don't even have to retype it to disguise your pilfering. Just change the byline to suit -- don't forget to personalize the "About the author" name at the end, and, voila! "Your" article is prepped and ready for insertion into local newspapers -- as sort of a free ad for your practice.

The master model of this method of "medical journalism" is practiced at the busy Sun Coast Media Group.

The medical tab editors of "Feeling Fit" over at the Lake Placid Journal are happy to not examine copy too closely. Editors are too busy assembling a once-a-week issue to fuss about the ethical lapse of stealing someone else's work. After all, busy editors must occasionally cut corners, and journalistic oversight is pretty much optional at SCMG. And, in the end, the benefit of plagiarism is it saves everyone the time and effort it takes to be honest with the reader and treat the community with respect.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Local Diet Adviser Plagiarizes "RD411" Website

Kitty Marlow, who claims sufficient education to become a registered dietitian with a master's degree, apparently missed the part of college that teaches professional ethics. She doesn't know that if she copies the words of others that she is plagiarizing. It's such an easy concept to master that Florida public schools introduce the concept and teach how to avoid making the error beginning in middle school language arts classes.

The refresher course: Avoid plagiarism by citing, paraphrasing and attributing. Most medical and paramedical and quasi-medical professionals go out of their way to cite credible sources to support their advice.

But not Kitty Marlow.

She writes for Sun Coast Media Group's "Feeling Fit" tab. Throughout most of her article in Sunday's paper, she simply copies most of the words in order from a website called RD411.

When Kitty Marlow strays from RD411, she abandons another kind of professional ethics. Without citing one credible peer-reviewed source, she dispenses borderline medical advice. She tells readers most people need to take a multivitamin and most people need "neutraceuticals" [sic ] That's her misspelling of her recommended product. And without a cautionary phrase in sight, tells readers that "potent plant extracts" have anti-aging properties and "dramatic skin effects" can be achieved with pine bark extracts, among other silliness. She does not disclose whether the day spa that employs her sells these items and if she has a financial interest in promoting her employer's products in this "news" story.

No harm done, however: Any reasonably alert reader, equipped with basic critical thinking skills will see that this spelling-challenged plagiarist promotes unproven hope in a bottle and will file it in the trash folder called "quackery."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Medical Plagiarism

"By Tammy Jones" at the top of a newspaper story means Tammy Jones wrote everything you are about to read with the exception of the parts in quotation marks.

But maybe Tammy Jones of Peace River Medical didn't get the word in high school: If she copies chunks of sentences and paragraphs that others wrote and slaps her byline on top of them without quotation marks, she is plagiarizing. If she writes a newspaper article and fails to attribute paraphrased sources in a fair and honest way, she's plagiarizing. When she copies the order of ideas, pattern of development and structure of the discussion, she's plagiarizing.

Tammy Jones apparently missed English class the day her nice teachers explained that if she changes out a couple of words and flips the sequence of a couple of sentences, it's evidence she may be deliberately attempting to disguise her plagiarism.

And finally, Tammy Jones gleans her facts from one website but directs readers to another -- one more credible than "" -- for more information.  Most readers expect to be referred to the same authority she used. But telling readers to visit the Skin Cancer Foundation when Tammy Jones visited is a dishonesty she works on readers and the newspaper editors -- not to mention her employer who probably endorsed the use of its name, never dreaming Tammy Jones would lie about her sources, steal the writing of others, and cheat readers of a fairly reported feature article.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bible Church Minister Plagiarizes Sermon of the Week

Richard Adomatis, who styles himself "reverend," ends a sermon in this morning's Charlotte Sun saying, "I know for certain I have received the gift of eternal life."

Old Word Wolf must clarify that: "...eternal life as a plagiarist."

It's plagiarism to use the words of others without acknowledgement or quotation marks. This particular "man of god" gives chapter and verse when he quotes from his particular holy book. But he hasn't developed the moral compass that reminds him to do similar when he cuts and pastes from a website that someone else wrote.

It's plagiarism to copy another writer's order of ideas, discussion structure, and pattern of support without acknowledging that the other writer ordered the ideas, structured the discussion, and arranged the supporting material.

Plagiarism breaks about half the commandments that this "man of god" probably claims to advocate and pounds his pulpit about on a regular basis.

So, let's see how we can follow the path of Rev. Richard Adomatis' holy example: Steal (the words of others). Lie (about your intellectual contribution). Cheat (readers from knowing the truth of your source information). Covet (what another writer created). Be boastful, prideful, and vain. Be hypocritical and work to deceive.

And there, my children, is one Christian's sermon of this week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reporter's "3 Mormons" Joke Insensitive, Irrelevant

Let's try a little word substitution:
Baptist snags gator, gets cited.
Jew snags gator, gets cited.
Confucian snags gator, gets cited.
Catholic snags gator, gets cited.

If religious affiliation is irrelevant in a the news story, then it's irrelevant to the headline writer. When religious affiliation has nothing to do with how or why events came to pass, then religion shouldn't be the lede, especially a lede loosely constructed on a tired category of iffy jokes predicated on stereotypes. The writer's opening snicker is never again mentioned in the story in a way that helps readers understand why they or the reporter should think Mormons are funny.

Alligators are pretty common in these parts. Catching one is neighborhood news but to make the local front, something more is needed. For the We-Don't-Get-Out-Much types at Sun Coast Media Group, that extra something would be Mormons.

Writer and editors apparently left news judgment on the dock when they found out that the people who snagged an alligator belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The newsroom grew the story to four columns and a jump. Editors made room for the 10-letter "Missionary" in the headline, worked "Mormon missionary" into the four-column the jump, and squeezed in at least one attribution styled as "... said the missionary." And, just in case readers don't know that this reporter and the kids they call editors think Mormon funny, the lede isn't news, but a genre joke: "Did you hear the one ... about the three Mormon missionaries and the gator?

The answer is, "No, we haven't heard that one. Maybe you'll share?" Oops. No sharing because there's no joke, no relevance, no connection. But that doesn't matter.

It's not enough that three California teenagers tossed a fishing line in a backyard canal, hooked an alligator that one said was 4 feet long, another said was 5 feet long, and the wildlife officer said warranted a ticket. Not enough news, so editors toss in the sectarian angle. Let's go back to the top of this bark: Muslim snags gator ... Presbyterian snags gator ...

If the reporter rightly wants to work in why three teenagers were fishing in a canal, she has every opportunity to report the boys are visitors on a two-year church mission and name the church. She could report they said they'd never had a close encounter with an alligator before and didn't know Floridians don't recommend using one's hands to hold shut the jaws of a large reptile and locals advise against carrying it into the rental apartment for a photograph before dumping the carnivore back into the canal, where neighborhood cockapoodles lap at the water's edge.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flatfooted Plagiarism Continues the "Feeling Fit" Tradition

Welcome Shirley George to the ranks of Sun Coast Media Group plagiarists. Her by-lined article, "Understanding a condition called 'flatfoot'" in this morning's "Feeling Fit" tab, uses Internet material word-for-word without benefit of quotation marks or atttribution.

Old Word Wolf has been alerting Charlotte Sun editors to plagiarists in their pages for more than six years and posting names since the fall of 2007 when a Baptist pastor launched the blog, anchoring the left rail's "Rev." section. Since no one at the newspaper seems to have figured out how to detect petty plagiarism, today's outing is accompanied by a three-step procedure and graphic.

The first step is to fire up the computer and load a Google search page. Type two or three sentences that Shirley George claims to have written into the search field. You can enter the sentences individually or as a group,

The second step is to click on the Google's search button and sit back while Google roams the Internet looking for a match. But don't go out for coffee; in about half a second Google returns more than 200 websites that Shirley George could have copied from.

The next step depends on where you sit. If Shirley George were an honest self-checker, she'd know the next step is inserting a dozen or so "according to...'s " and appropriate quotation marks. If she were a real pro, she would know the next step is paraphrasing -- understanding the material well enough to explain it in her own words and attributing some more. If an editor were checking Shirley George's copy, the editor would see the next step is telling this "correspondent" thanks but no thanks: "You're plagiarizing and we don't use stuff you copy from the Internet."

None of that happened, so the next step is typing Shirley George's name into Old Word Wolf's Blogger widget that lists Sun Coast Media Group plagiarists.

And speaking of Google ....

Reader's Question: What was Cover Editor thinking?

Editor's Answer: "I was thinking I needed a shopworn cliche that's old, stale, irrelevant, not cute, been done a gazillion times before (Google should be able to locate at least a million hits) and features a bad pun that forms a hyphenated nonword that I can display in inverted commas.

Reader: OK, now I understand.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why Write Question Heds?

Questions in headlines say more about the editor than the story. For example, a McClatchy News Service item on a Charlotte Sun business page this morning asks, "Is high unemployment the 'new normal?'

There's no question in story: Two economists (three in the uncut version, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) and a dozen explanatory examples make a substantial case that unemployment is unlikely dip much below 6.5 percent or 7 percent for several years to come.

So, the answer is "Probably, Yes." But a Sun-Herald copy editor, the J-school grad who's supposed take pride in the arcane skill of extracting the news for readers who may read or skip the story, would rather ask a stoopid question. Doesn't that say more about the editor and than the news?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Questionable Queries

The best editors have a general aversion to headlines that ask questions. Their dislike stems from the interrogative mood's journalistic short comings: Question heds fail to inform, reflect story content, illuminate, account for answers that could go either way, or display the spirit of investigation that local reporters are famous for (OK, now I'm making stuff up).

Charlotte Sun Managing Editor John Hackworth doesn't actually use a question hed, but instead creates an entire column out of random questions. In doing this, he manages to mutate the ask from a journalistic tool into absurdity's stratosphere. He lines up 21 unrelated What's, How's and Did'ja's: "Did you know that even New Jersey is miles ahead of Florida when it comes to cultivating renewable energy?" That gem is 18th, coming half a dozen bullet points after "Have you heard Josh Blattner is back selling cars at Harbor Nissan?"

But those are goldfish in a teacup, shooting fish-wise. Old Word Wolf has time for only one -- Hackworth's leading question, so to speak: "How much power does state Sen. Mike Bennett have over how Florida redraws its congressional districts as he prepares a campaign to run for Congress?

Hackworth's question is vitally important, deeply condescending, and delivered with a fine touch of arrogance. His salvo ignores that most readers in these parts (the senator's district lies some miles north of this newspaper's circulation area) might require a cup of context in order to appreciate its complexities and potential array of reasonable answers. When a senior editor tosses a question like this on the table and then sprints away to ask readers if they've had a water massage at his advertiser's spa, the newsman is contributing to the confusion, not aiding a well-informed citizenry.

Most obvious at first glance ("Calling a copy editor!"), Hackworth withholds the basics every good reporter includes in a story's first or second mention of a pol: party affiliation, district, key legislative position (For Bennett, that would be Republican, District 21-Bradenton, Manatee County, Florida Senate president pro tempore). But worse, Hackworth's lofty query squints down his very long editorial nose at lowly readers -- we who have not been informed of Bennett's congressional aspiration or his role in redistricting** by merely reading the Charlotte Sun or the DeSoto Sun or The Lake Placid Journal -- or any other SCMG paper (assuming its search engine works. I could be wrong on this.)

Hackworth's question refers to (I think) the term-limited senator's recent admission to Herald-Tribune reporter Jeremy Wallace.

In order to have a shot at the federal house seat, Bennett said that if redistricting doesn't put his Bradenton home in the 11th, then he's moving. If he can run in the 11th, he would face U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. That's likely to be easier than a fight on his current home turf, where the federal house key hangs around the neck of fellow Republican Vern Buchanan.

"If I have to relocate, then I will relocate," Bennett told the Sarasota paper's newsman. For all we know,the editor of the Charlotte Sun may also have been present when the senator said that. But Hackworth's not telling -- he's just asking. And, assuming -- the arrogance of knowing we all can infer "the right answer" as he sees it.


** Pray tell, John. Bennett's not listed as a member of the five-week series of statewide summer public meetings on redistricting, or a member of the key committees on the issue. We dearly want to know what you think you know about this. Bennett was a key player in Governor Scott's Spring Massacre. Is that the parlay?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Barbershop Beat

School's out and summer interns are fanning out across the land, eager apply theory to practice, guided by seasoned mentors. Sun Coast Media Group snared one and immediately assigned the journalism hopeful to -- the barbershop beat.

Could the Sun's associate deputy senior managing executive editor in charge of interns, the grizzled old bear who loves waxing nostalgic about his notebook days of pounding the pavement, chasing ambulances, interviewing hard-bitten cops and digging for malfeasance at city hall in gritty little towns where he learned the craft, have dreamed up a less useful assignment for the tyro?

In 490 words, the intern reports that Frankie gives a great haircut. He confirms that the barber "gives his customers complete satisfaction," and "feels gratification" when "he has done his absolute best." The reporter says the barber is determined "to run a successful business," learned from his father, and now regards "hairdressing as more than a career." The shop owner treats customers "like family" and his "efforts are motivated by providing for his family." If a reader gets to the end of 20 inches feeling the need "for more information," the story wraps with address, phone number and price list.

The nice intern is learning a few things probably not mentioned in J-school: Sun Coast Media Group has no truck with such things as a wall between editorial and advertising. And, no bit of boosterism is so blatant it could embarrass a Dunn-Rankin. And, sadly, two cliches per inch aren't enough to wake up the copy desk. And most sadly, not one of this nice intern's mentors took time to read his stuff with an eye to nudging him away from the embarrassment of debuting with an unintentional bar-joke parody ("Have you ever walked out of barber shop ...") and asking a silly question ("...feeling like your hair has been treated with the skill and delicacy of an artist painting on canvas?")*

OWW's advice for the cub: Run, kid! Run as fast as you can!

And speaking of in-house ads and copy desks ... :

One makes a unique offer. The other calls a 13- and 16-year-old brother and sister twins.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Car Rolls Over in Light Rain but We Think There's More To It

A car rolls over in light rain and a reporter makes it to the scene. Mat Delaney has camera, snaps picture and gets news ... after a fashion. Delaney, long-time reporter, editor, journalist, voice of all things happening in Lake Placid, reports it this way:

Injuries minor in rollover crash
A light rain and slick roads were blamed for this single vehicle rollover crash Friday evening.

We can see it now: the little car is tootling along in light rain and rolls over.

Newsman Delaney doesn't think to report where the car that rolls over in light rain. It's irrelevant that the car that rolls over in light rain had a driver or that the driver was teen, elder, or mother with child.

It's irrelevant who told the reporter that unnamed persons suffered minor injuries from the car that rolls over in light rain. Readers don't need to know if the car that rolls over in light rain does this along the six-lane highways bisecting This Little Town or prefers to roll over in light rain along citrus grove roads -- or maybe in its own driveway.

There's so much we'll never know about the little car that rolls over in light rain. It's either irrelevant or too much to ask if a driver encourages the car to roll over in the rain or if the car does the trick all on its own.

Delaney's trick is pretty cute, too. He gets a photo credit and paycheck for a story that doesn't use up a single one of journalism's five W's.