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AOL Patch Managing Editor Soft Pedals Plagiarism Incident with Talk of the Sound

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AOL Patch Managing Editor Soft Pedals Plagiarism Incident with Talk of the Sound

November 30, 2010 - 02:10

Robert Hernandez of the Online Journalism Review has an article up which references the plagiarism issue where AOL Patch lifted material from Talk of the Sound and then lied about it: Patch's editor-in-chief answers all questions, evil or otherwise.

In terms of quality, the other negative criticism has been in the quality of journalism... which is subjective... but the concerns and allegations about plagiarism are valid... at least in two cases, [correct]? How do you address those concerns? Perhaps not failed Patches, but those are some significant issues, [are they not]?

Absolutely -- for any self-respecting journalism operation, plagiarism a serious concern. But we are really not alone in hiring human beings who make mistakes, which is often where a lot of instances of plagiarism happen, especially online. I'm not excusing the incidents you cite, but in one case the plagiarism was in copying a photo-collaged image of public-domain police mugshots without crediting the blogger who made the collage. Again -- flat-out wrong, no excuses. But the editor was working hard and going too fast and got sloppy. In the other incident, the plagiarism was by a freelancer, not a full-time editor. When we found out about it, we immediately apologized, corrected the record, and ended our relationship with the freelancer. That's about as much as anyone can be expected to do: what really matters to me is how we respond to any mistakes we make, and what we do from that point forward to learn from the mistakes and try not to repeat them. Following the incidents, we created a new online training module about issues of plagiarism and we're making it a requirement for all editors, old and new, to take the module. That's rolling out within a couple of weeks.

One final note on the allegations of plagiarism: we've been plagiarized ourselves. I'm not throwing that out there as an "everyone does it" thing, I'm more making the point that there is a lot of this kind of thing happening on the Web, but we've been called out I think because we're a convenient target. Have to add once more: there's no excuse for plagiarism and we shouldn't do it!

Do you want to elaborate on the plagiarism or just let your statement stand?

Yeah, I won't elaborate because I don't want to make too big a deal about it. Stuff happens and you deal with it, on both ends of the issue.

The interview was a follow up to a question asked by Hernandez at the recent ONA Conference: The question everyone's talking about: Is AOL's Patch evil?

I would have liked to comment and provide some balance to Farnham's answer because the issue was not simply that a local Patch editor lifted material from Talk of the Sound but that after I informed her and her boss, AOL issued officials statements not just denying that the image had been plagiarized but made numerous, knowingly false statements about me personally, accusing me of lying and attributing various nefarious motives to my "lying". Further, that AOL Patch never published any sort of correction, attribution or apologize on their own site, instead sending me an email and inviting me to publish it on my site. Gee, thanks!

Readers will note that in the other case of plagiarism, Farnham says "we immediately apologized, corrected the record, and ended our relationship with the freelancer." With Talk of the Sound, they lied about it for four days, issued two officials statements accusing me of lying, failed to correct the record and continue to employ the regional editor responsible.

Read the many links about this incident.