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Paper tries to change name after plaigiarism scandal

June 11, 2012 Comments off

Remember the Anchor Weekly, the Alberta community newspaper whose editor, Steve Jeffrey, was found to have filled his columns with the cribbed stylings of various American columnists?

Well, Jeffrey is gone (at least Steve Jeffrey, a Nick Jeffrey is listed on the company’s website) and now the paper’s new publisher is trying to make everyone forget what happened.

I give you, thus, the following email from Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association executive director Dennis Murrell:

A Tale of Two Anchors

Apparently the media coverage of plagiarism involving the Chestermere Anchor Weekly has had a negative impact on the “Weekly Anchor” in Edson, Alberta.

For this reason, publisher Dana McArthur has asked that we identify the newspaper as the Chestermere Anchor Weekly, as opposed to the “Anchor Weekly”.

Please pass this along to reporters/editors who may be considering the publication of a story in next week’s newspaper.

Thank you.

Dennis Merrell.

This is funny for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the masthead of the paper’s own website bears the name of “The Anchor Weekly.”

In related news, Jeffrey has apologized for his plagiarism AND agreed to pay for the words he stole. From Poynter:

Sheila Moss, a humor writer in Nashville, says in an email that she and Jeffrey “negotiated a financial settlement with the encouragement of the Alberta Press Council, with whom I had filed a complaint. I feel that the amount was fair and I’m satisfied with the resolution.”

ANWA has also suspended the paper for a year for Jeffrey’s misdeeds.

Finally, on May 3, the Anchor Weekly published an apology by Jeffrey. Here’s what he wrote:

So for those of you who have not hard, many of the words I used in the Lighthouse column over the past year were not mine.

I need to credit the authors: George Waters, Erik Deckers, Sheila Moss, Russell Wangersky, Peter Chianca, Joe Lavin, Man Martin, John Brock, Jon Martin, Jason Love, Laura B. Randolph, Daron Williams, and Bill Westcott from whom I used substantial pieces of their work under my own name.

The articles contained large portions of their work without credit, and I need to apologize.

I found myself getting more and more involved in things. Life got busier and busier I found myself in more and more last minute scrambles. I exercised poor judgement by pulling things out of my inbox to fill a page in the paper.

So you have seen the last of Sittin’ in the Lighthouse, but there is lots in the Anchor to keep you informed and entertained. [Sic, all].

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A good news news story story

April 23, 2012 1 comment

I got an email the other day from Chilliwack Times reporter Tyler Olsen regarding a story his paper published last Thursday about some local optician who set up shop in town after getting out of jail in Ontario. Turns out he broke a bunch of eye-related rules back east and is now pissing off the locals in Chilliwack.

Tyler writes:

Hi, thought you might be interested in this story. Of note, is the fact that this guy advertised in our paper prior to the story’s publication. Nevertheless, the advertising folks and Nick Bastaja, the paper’s publisher, never tried to kill the story. And my colleague Cornelia Naylor made it worth their effort by writing a real good, fair piece. It’s too bad that it’s noteworthy when a community paper has enough integrity to actually publish a somewhat-negative story about an advertiser. Still, given how much advertising influences editorial decisions at some papers, it’s worth bragging about.

Here’s how that story starts:

A former Ontario optician who was fined $17 million for contempt of court, served one year in jail and was stripped of his Ontario optician’s licence for repeatedly flouting his home province’s health legislation has set up shop in Chilliwack.

Now local opticians say he’s breaking the law here too.

more…

[UPDATE]: As Lachlan notes in the comments, the guy has an argument to make about the eyewear industry as a whole (which the story touches on).

Alberta plagiarist resigns editor post

March 28, 2012 2 comments

Steve Jeffrey, the publisher/owner of Chestermere, Alta.’s The Anchor Weekly has mercifully resigned as the paper’s editor after being fingered as a serial plagiarist, according to the Calgary Herald.

For some background, check out my previous two stories or visit the blog of American humourist George Waters, who first exposed Jeffrey.

Jeffrey told the Herald via email: “I really don’t have any way to defend myself. I did use articles for inspiration, but thought that I had changed the content enough to comply.”

I had previously excoriated Jeffrey, but reading that quote in the Herald, I found a twinge of sympathy for the guy. If he did think he had changed the content enough to comply, clearly he was just a guy who had absolutely no fucking clue what he was doing. If that’s the case, well, I can’t be sorry that he’s no longer editing the paper, but at least one can rest assured that he didn’t know he was stealing the work of other writers. Of course, it might just be a convenient excuse. But his previous ham-handed denials hint at a guy who didn’t know squat about plagiarism (although he certainly knew how to plagiarize).

The Alberta Press Council is also investigating.

 

Alberta “editor” continues to deny rampant plagiarism

March 27, 2012 1 comment

Steve Jeffrey, the “editor” and publisher of Chestermere, Alta.’s The Anchor Weekly has told the St. John’s Telegram that he didn’t rip off three of their columnists and that he’s looking into how so many of their words, sentences and paragraphs ended up in columns bearing his name and mug. For a quick refresher, American humourist George Waters busted him yesterday on his blog.

Waters found that 42 of Jeffrey’s last 52 columns were ripped off from a baker’s dozen of North American columnists.

Today, the Telegram, for which three of those columnists write, published a news story under the understated headline “Alberta editor accused of plagiarism.” It begins:

Nearly four years ago, inspired by the fleeting Newfoundland summer, Telegram columnist Russell Wangersky wrote that he wouldn’t waste a beautiful day by worrying about bitterness and politics.

“We can look under every rock for how we’ve been wronged, for proof of the latest imagined betrayal, or we can make our own future, every single day,” wrote Wangersky in a column published July 5, 2008.

Last summer, an editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Alberta printed those exact 28 words — and the better part of every other sentence in Wangersky’s column — under his own name. It was one of 41 columns he is accused of plagiarizing over the past year.

more…

Asked directly whether he stole others work, Jeffrey somehow managed to deny the charge: “I certainly have used other writers as inspiration, but I would say that I have not plagiarized anything,” he told the Telegram.

That left George Waters asking on his blog: “Have you no shame?” While Jeffrey, who runs The Anchor Weekly, removed back issues from his paper’s website yesterday, Waters had already saved a couple PDFs and posted them today for readers to compare to the original writers’ columns. Read his blog here.

All of this is disturbing and hilarious. One would hope that Jeffrey would pack it in, sell his paper and get the fuck out of the newspaper industry. Alas, he seems delusional. Too bad for his readers. But he shouldn’t be able to hold on for ever. If Jeffrey doesn’t fess up soon, I hope one of the writers sues him and puts his newspapering career out of its misery.

(I know I normally try to avoid directly impinging on other journalists’ work or motives, mostly because I’m anonymous. But the scale of the thievery is such that I harbour absolutely no sympathy for Jeffrey right now. If there’s a reason I should back off, leave a comment.)

[Update: I should have added that, according to The Telegram one of the columnists Jeffrey ripped off has complained to the Alberta Press Council. I should also have noted that Jeffrey outright lied to The Telegram about not being at his paper’s office Monday, when the back issues of the paper were taken offline. He admitted his lie only when contradicted by an employee.]

Alberta editor/publisher busted for rampant plagiarism, plays dumb

March 26, 2012 1 comment

The publisher and editor of The Anchor Weekly in Chestermere, Alta., has been accused of repeatedly plagiarizing the work of several American humourists in four out of five columns he has written over the past year.

He was first busted by humour (or humor, I guess, since he’s American) writer George Waters. Having read about another writer whose columns had been plagiarized, Waters googled phrases from a few of his columns. His search led him straight to The Anchor Weekly publisher and editor Steve Jeffrey.

Waters dug into the paper’s last year of issues and found more instances of apparent theft. From Waters’s blog:

“The Anchor” has online archives which go back a year. I searched 52 issues using the same process, and I discovered that I was not the only writer whose work Jeffrey was using under his own byline in his weekly column, “Sittin’ in the Lighthouse.” In all, I found 41 evidently plagiarized columns by 14 different humor writers in the past 12 months.
I say “evidently” only because I have not communicated with all 13 of the other writers yet, so I do not frankly know if they each sold their writing to Mr. Jeffrey with the understanding that, as part of the deal, he would be posting it under his own name and photo.
It seems, to be charitable, unlikely, however. I certainly made no such deal.

(To be entirely accurate, there were 42 instances when Jeffrey’s “Lighthouse” column used content from sources not his own, not 41. But on June 23 and October 27 of 2011, for some reason, he printed the same co-opted column.)

Andrew Beaujon from the Poynter Institute then took up the case, actually contacting Jeffrey, who played (very) dumb:

Reached by telephone in Alberta, where he said he was about to travel to British Columbia for two weeks, Jeffrey seemed baffled by Waters’ allegations. His column, he told me, doesn’t even touch on comedy. “I don’t write humor, and I don’t blog,” he said. “I write a ‘Lighthouse’ column, but ‘Lighthouse’ is about local politics.”

….

My conversation with Jeffrey was surreal. When I relayed Waters’ allegations, Jeffrey responded, “I don’t know what to say.” When I asked if the columns that ran under his name weren’t his, he said, “I would say yes because I don’t like humor.”

After checking that I was on the phone with the Steve Jeffrey in question, I offered to send him examples of two of the columns Waters says were taken from other writers. He promised to read the columns and get back in touch with me.

more…

On its website, the Anchor calls itself an “Alternative newspaper.”

Published since 2001, The Anchor Weeklyprovides readers in our region, local news coverage and provocative coverage of arts and entertainment.With a circulation of 10,000, the paper each week reaches more than 30,000 active, educated and affluent readers, who look to The Anchor to guide their lifestyle and entertainment choices. Readers rely on The Anchor’s intelligent and provocative coverage of local social issues, politics, arts and culture.

We embrace alternative views, alternative topics, and alternative content.

We don’t have a manual on how to be an alternative newspaper, we just grew up that way.

The residents of Chestermere, Langdon, Strathmore, Calgary, and the rest of “our Anchorage” are nothing like you’ve seen elsewhere in the region. Literate. Highly articulate. Politically aware. Socially conscious. They are a group with a mind all their own.

And, to reach out to unique people, you need a unique newspaper.

The Anchor speaks the kind of language this group easily relate to. The kind of journalism they understand, respect, believe in and act upon.

Wow.

Here’s Jeffrey’s Linkedin bio. Prior to The Anchor Weekly, he appears to have had no journalism training or experience. He does lists himself as a board member with the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association but I found no record of him on the AWNA website or on the past boards listed here.

When reporters attack

February 29, 2012 2 comments

With the Keith Lacey/Osoyoos Times/RCMP thing having died down, I want to look at the hubbub from a journalism aspect.
Since I’m doing so anonymously, I’m consciously going to tread lightly and not burn Lacey too much. There’s not much point in piling on and it’s hard for him to defend himself.

That said, I think there are important lessons to draw from the incident.

There are the obvious ones of course:

The column clearly needed more editing than it got (the last of which probably should have been to just say “Fuck It,” and hit the delete button). And it was definitely one of those that needs to simmer a while in the edit-later box before being posted or printed. A couple edits, I think, gets rid of some of the indulgences Lacey allowed himself with the piece.

But mainly, I want to address some the larger questions.

1. Let’s deal with naming the officer. Lacey regrets doing so, and it was clearly the name that got RCMP brass so upset. But if you’re going to publish the article, is there any journalism-ethics reason to omit the name?

I don’t think there is (although there is clearly a tactical reason, vis-a-vis one’s relationship with the RCMP). You have a name, you print it. That’s kinda how it works, so long as you have a story in the first place.

2. The first thing I thought when I read the RCMP reply was that the communications officer in question seemed to be putting himself in an awkward position. To allude to a video, but then not to release it, seemed strange and not exactly kosher.

3. The word slander is thrown around far, far too much.

4. It’s important, I think, to build relationships behind the scenes with RCMP officers and to show them that you are willing to be fair, even if they aren’t always going to like what you write.

I had an officer casually threaten to throw me in jail once. It was nothing big and it was an empty threat to get me to move out of a quasi-police scene.Seeing that I was on my way out, already, I left without making a scene. But after it happened, I casually mentioned it to a contact at the local cop shop, who said that shouldn’t have happened. The issue was solved, my point was made and my contacts were reminded that I was reasonable and fair.

There are too many problems created when people—journalists and non-journalists—feel attacked and decide to go on the offensive. We see it happen too often at all levels of every profession and it almost always ends badly, with little resolved.

Sure, sometimes you need to write a song like “United Breaks Guitars,” but only after you exhaust all other options (as the singer did in that case). The right to legitimately and ethically launch a written attack on someone or something for a personal slight is a privilege that must be earned through repeated and prolonged suffering and humiliation. (Which is why it’s important to put down the attack piece for a day or two and consider whether your feelings simmer.)

Here, with his two cents, is Jeff Lee’s opinion on things from the comments section of the original story:

The real problem with this story is that it has the potential to hurt a lot of serious and well-meaning journalists.
The RCMP have, in recent years, seemed to crash from one side of the room to the other with publicity and credibility gaffs. The Robert Dziekanski taser incident. The handling of the Pickton investigation. Allegations of harassment of female Mounties by their own colleagues. Etc. etc. etc. They don’t really need our help in pointing out their flaws.

But at their basic they’re also professional force and for every bad apple there’s a whole orchard of good people. Sometimes they mess up. But more often than not they do a fine job.

In this case, I am surprised and disturbed that a member of the media would use a forum such as an editorial for such a personal attack. The old saying “never get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” isn’t a license to attack someone who is doing their job, even if you don’t like the job they’re doing.

I’ve lived in small towns and I’ve seen cops – human beings – do stupid things as much as the guy next door. But I also would expect them to do their job and if that means pulling over someone who is coming out of a bar, restaurant, whatever, that shouldn’t be too surprising. I once watched the Boston Bar RCMP detachment set up a roadblock at closing time outside the only bar in town, much to the imbibing population. A lot of people walked home that night.

The appropriate thing, if you think you are being unfairly targeted, is to take the officer’s information and make a complaint to his superior or to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

Getting into a very VERY public pissing match with the officer – especially in a small town where everybody knows each other and your kids are likely to be on the same minor hockey team – doesn’t usually end well. This editor is going to have a credibility problem, and in our business credibility and integrity are the only tangible commodities we have.

I’m not suggesting one should roll over when faced with a bully cop. But cool heads, common sense and the shelving of ego and sense of entitlement as a journalist would better resolve these kinds of disputes.

Frankly, as a journalist of more than 30 years, I would never gratuitously wave my credentials around. In fact, if anything, journalists need to be held to as high a public standard as police, judges, politicians and others they cover.

We live in a goldfish bowl, and to mix metaphors, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Personally, I want to see the video. I also am curious to hear what the owner of the newspaper has to say about this

Former editor says advertisers have unethical influence on editorial at Kelowna daily

November 23, 2011 4 comments

On Wednesday, J-Source posted a juicy account by Micah Luxen, the former editor of the Westside Weekly (a Kelowna Daily Courier regional supplement), in which she says she resigned from the paper due to the unseemly influence advertisers had on editorial.

The accusations are backed up by recordings made of meetings with KDC managing editor Jon Manchester, and of copies of the emails.

Manchester responds to the accusations.

Read the whole thing here.

Some of the juiciest stuff from Luxen’s first-person account:

“Businesses help us, so we help them,” [publisher Terry] Armstrong told me. I had thought going in that newspapers were about serving the community, not serving the highest bidder for the sake of profits. Nevertheless, Armstrong wanted good stories about businesses that advertised in the paper.

Soon after I started at the Courier in 2009, an email memo was sent down through Manchester.

Andre Martin, general manager at ThePenticton Herald [ed. note: the Courier’s sister paper], wrote on Sept. 28:

“Gents: it would be my preference that we do NOT report on any activities at Apex [Mountain Resort] this season. I know our readers should know when the ski hill opens etc. but they continue to ignore any advertising requests. [General manager James] Shalman cancelled meetings the day before, was never available to hear a pitch etc., yet he can get ads into the Western and on the radio last week…. It would seem in these tough times we should look after those (as much as possible) who believe in us. A quick search produced eight stories about Apex this past spring and not a nickel in advertising revenue. Let me know your thoughts.”

Armstrong responded: “Agreed.”

On dwindling resources due to the ownership of former Conrad Black partner David Radler:

Staff didn’t like it; of the 10 editors, five reporters and one photographer who make up the editorial department at The Courier, four quit during my time at the paper, and I understood that morale was a factor in their doing so. Others grumbled under their breath – nothing changed.

Manchester asked Luxen to run a vet column by a future advertiser. She wondered if she was allowed to say no, or if it was an order handed down from advertising:

He said, “I’m telling you we’re running it.… They’re making money off it, and it’s, like, wait a minute, if we told the guy we don’t want to run it then maybe he’d be pissed off and not spend money with us.”

While maintaining there was no conflict of interest, he threw in: “As distasteful as it is, that’s part of the media business.”

Luxen threatened to quit if this was going to be the attitude, and Manchester let her bite the bullet. She now works as a freelance writer in Toronto. While some at the paper hoped that the resignation would send a message. Luxen writes:

“Three days later, Manchester wrote a full-page story on Melcor Developments, a major advertiser with The Courier. It was one of just a handful of stories he’d written during my term – perhaps just another instance of a great story with coincidental ties to advertising.

I can’t hold Radler and his managers accountable, but I thought I should at least hold myself accountable.

Manchester was given the opportunity to respond.

He said that advertising reps have connections in the community and often have legitimate story ideas.

All ideas, assignments and submitted content (on which community newspapers everywhere are relying more and more in an effort to get “hyperlocal”) is held to the same standard. If an idea comes by way of the ad department, it is made clear from the beginning that no promises are made. If we are interested in the content, we’ll judge its merits like any other submission. Many tips and submissions from outside the editorial department result in no further action or coverage. Some do make the grade. Others have gone on to become some of our most popular columnists.

We most certainly do not “sell” editorial coverage, and to have one’s ethics questioned by a junior employee who secretly recorded conversations over a great length of time does call into question her own motivation. Being quoted out of context and made the victim of a hatchet job after that employee chose to leave the company doesn’t say much about one’s ethics either.

And, finally, to be given an ultimatum by an employee leaves a department head no realistic choice but to allow them to seal their own fate.

As for requests from advertising reps for coverage of their clients, Manchester said that it’s his job to “deflect and filter those requests”

So…this is interesting. Leave a comment below, especially if you work at the Courier.

Here’s my take:

I’m not going to get into the he said-she said elements of this, but calling out the reporter a “junior employee” is taking the easy way out for the simple reason that it’s precisely because of her problems with the newsroom ethics that means Luxen will never hold a more senior rank at the paper.

And questioning her motives is also probably wrong. There are lots of stories of community reporters and editors being fired because they refuse to kowtow to advertisers. If I’m pushing back against advertisers at my paper, if I have a suspicion I’ll be fired or forced to resign because of that, and if I already have a tape recorder sitting at my desk, I’d be foolish not to gather evidence for whatever may come down the line. (I’ve never been in such a situation, however).

I think the Apex memo from Martin gives the best indication of the advertiser-editorial climate. And it clearly shows that advertising does influence editorial.

This raises a couple more general points:

Editors at many papers ARE filters for requests by the ad departments. And it’s likely that they can’t shoot them all down. As far as I can tell, it’s one of the major bummers of being an editor at certain papers. But, if you have a publisher who acknowledges the problems with advertising-influenced editorial—problems that include the whole slippery slope thing of finding it difficult to draw a line at a certain point—then the advertising reps themselves will start becoming the filter. I know this. I’ve seen it in action. I’ve heard an advertising rep use the term “Chinese wall.” And for a journalist, that’s music to one’s ears.

Of course, the problem is that publishers with advertising backgrounds often don’t give a fuck about a paper’s editorial. And they ignore the long-term deleterious effect that meshing advertising and editorial can have on a paper’s reputation and profitability. But what are you going to do? If the problem lies with publishers, then the people with the power to change things are the publishers’ bosses, which, worryingly, puts several layers of management between lower-level reporters and editors like Luxen, and the people who control their fate.

I’m sorry that I can’t find a silver lining to this sad story. Leave a comment below anyways.

UPDATE: I should have said in my original post that I have a huge amount of respect for what Luxen did. To martyr’s one job in the name of editorial independence is, in my books, a noble act and requires more guts than most reporters, including myself, probably have. She has little to gain by writing about it, but it’s an issue that needs exposure and she has possibly taken a hit for her future employment prospects to reveal how the sausage gets made.

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