Deadline time again, and I'm fresh out of good ideas for a column. If I don't get this piece filed soon, I'll miss my manicure appointment. What to do, what to do?
Hey! I know! I'll steal that funny story I saw in the New York Times last month, change a few names and adjectives, and put my own byline on it. My editor will never know the difference, and I'm sure my readers are all too stupid and provincial to notice. Excellent idea, no?
Well, no. But it must have seemed like a good idea to Vancouver Sun columnist Angele Yanor when she wrote a column about middle-aged snowboarders at Whistler which was almost a word for word copy of a New York Times story about middle-aged snowboarders at Bald Mountain, Idaho.
The similarities are blatant. Here's the opening of Yanor's piece:"It's 11 a.m. on a recent Saturday, and two avid snowboarders are standing in the lift line at Whistler Mountain. They are wearing Gore-Tex jackets, joking about how they will soon be 'shredding the mountain' on their Burton boards, and they are fastening $549 iPods loaded with hours of music into neoprene holders."
And here's the beginning of the story in the Times:"Bobby Diamon and Billy Kelly, avid snowboarders, stood in the lift line on Bald Mountain two days before New Year's Eve. They wore Burton jackets, spoke of how they would soon be 'shredding the mountain' on their Hurley boards, fastened their $399 iPods loaded with hours of music into neoprene holders."
Yanor's column, published in the Vancouver Sun Feb. 28, is just as obviously derivative throughout. When the Sun editor-in-chief asked her for an explanation, she resigned. The only explanation she has offered is on her personal website: "For the record, I have never called myself a journalist. My articles have always had an element of fiction. Most of my readers accepted this. To make sweeping comparisons of journalistic plagiarism seems a bit unfair. If I have offended anyone, I am truly sorry."
Truly sorry she got caught, I would say. And sorry for herself.
Whether she calls herself a journalist or not (and her editor, at least, should be a journalist and demand journalistic standards), Yanor should know it's wrong to steal someone else's work and pass it off as her own. That's not some esoteric journalistic code, that's basic morals.
Yanor has been changing the weak apology on her website frequently since this scandal broke. In an earlier version, Yanor suggested plagiarism is no big deal. She compared herself to a journalist re-writing wire copy.
Note to Angele: the difference is that reputable newspapers pay for wire copy and credit the wire service as the source of a story.Then she had the gall to end her blog with the warning, "Content may only be published with prior written consent."Er, Angele, shouldn't that sentiment apply to other people's work as well?
She also posted a self-congratulating retrospective of her three years as a Sun columnist and a self-pitying ramble about why people take pleasure in the misfortunes of others ("say, in the form of a sudden job loss"), a phenomenon known as schadenfreude.
I admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude myself over Yanor's sudden infamy. I've never been a fan of her column on the Vancouver singles scene, a self-indulgent, pseudo-hip bit of weekly drivel, which owed much to Sex in the City. Her column should have been canned long ago for its bad writing and weak content, and I was glad to see her go down in flames.
But on reading Yanor's lame excuse, I felt not schadenfreude, but anger and frustration. It echoes the excuses made by New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who fabricated news stories and invented interviews. When pressed for time, they seem to think, any method is acceptable to produce a story. Truth, schmuth. Plagiarism? Who cares?
No wonder people don't believe much of what they read in the newspapers any more.