Yet Another Serial Plagiarist Busted by Google

March is International Serial Plagiarist Month, apparently. Because it’s the month that I discovered my humor columns being ripped off by, not one, but two newspaper editors in North America.

Yesterday morning, I received an email from humor columnist, George Waters, who said that we, plus 12 other humor writers, had been ripped off by Steve Jeffrey, publisher of The Anchor in Chestermere, Alberta, Canada, in 42 columns out of the last 52 weeks.

Not just a line here or there, or one of the funnier jokes. He did a complete copy-and-paste job, made some edits to give it a local flavor, and then published it under his name.

(You can read a very thorough writeup of the plagiarism situation by Andrew Beaujon of The Poynter Institute, a journalism school in Florida.)

Bicycle thieves and Dutch police

If only plagiarists were this easy to catch.

Earlier this month, Jon Flatland of the Blooming Prairie (Minn.) Times was found to have been plagiarizing humor columns and blogs from several humor writers, possibly as far back as 15 – 18 years ago. He resigned in disgrace, and his publisher notified the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation and another writer notified the North Dakota Newspaper Association about his plagiarism. He’ll never work in newspapers again.

And 25 days later I get another email that I have been stolen from yet again, but I was only ripped off twice. Fellow humorist Sheila Moss had 24 columns lifted.

How do we know? Because Waters copied every single column published under Steve Jeffrey’s name from the last 52 weeks — the online archives for anything beyond that were not available — and Googled unique phrases from each and every piece, and found columns that were written beforehand by someone else. That’s how he found me and three Canadians, eight Americans, and one Australian. I’ve also used Google Cache to find copies of my columns in The Anchor’s Issuu.com PDF newspapers. (Note: Just because you delete something from your website doesn’t mean it’s gone; Google saves this in their cache for weeks and even months.)

But that didn’t stop Jeffrey from expressing bewilderment at the accusation that 80% of his columns were found to be nearly identical to columns by other people. According to Beaujon’s article:

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.”

Well, the Lighthouse columns I read from August 25, 2011 and October 13, 2011 looked an awful lot like mine, with a few details changed. One is from 2003 about the three hours I worked as a telemarketer in college, and the other was an open letter to a fictitious fellow traveler to Boston. In 18 years, I have never written about local Canadian politics.

God Save Me From Newspaper Editors

As blogging has grown in popularity, bloggers have been increasingly under attack by the media. Bobby King, president of the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, once called us the animals in the blogosphere. And yet, it’s not the bloggers, but the highly trained professional newspaper people that have stolen from me.

Three times.

In all the years that I’ve been a humor writer, I’ve had my work stolen by three different newspaper editors. (I discovered my work being lifted back in the early 2000s by an assistant editor of a weekly paper in Ontario.)

That means Canada leads the U.S. in theft of my work, 2 to 1.

But I have never found a legitimate, serious blogger stealing anything of mine. (That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but I’ve never found it.)

What’s most frustrating about this is that I’ve been writing my newspaper column for little to no pay for all these years, publishing it in 10 different newspapers around Indiana, and in The American Reporter online. I do this because I love writing, and I love making people laugh. Humor writing has never been about the money. I’ve tried self-syndicating, but found very few takers. “We don’t have the budget,” is the frequent answer. So I gave up trying to earn money from it, and just do it because I love it.

So it frosts me when editors — bearers of journalistic ethics and integrity — profit dishonestly from my work. They collect salaries, they collect advertising revenue, and they make their living by stealing something they weren’t willing to pay me for.

I still consider journalism to be a noble profession, and I still think editors play a vital role in informing the public. I won’t paint all editors with the same overgeneralizing brush that people like Bobby King have painted my profession. Hell, I got my “professional” writing start thanks to one newspaper editor in northern Indiana who took a chance on me 18 years ago, so I am forever grateful to editors as a whole.

But I’m also getting sick of media professionals decrying the state of the blogging industry, when it’s their brethren who keep stealing my stuff. If you want to talk about “the animals in the blogosphere,” let’s first have a conversation about “the thieves in the editors’ offices.”

Otherwise, get your own house in order before you attack mine.

And quit stealing my stuff.

Fallout from Steve Jeffrey’s Serial Plagiarism

Here’s what has happened since the theft was first discovered:

All archives from The Anchor’s website were removed immediately after the Poynter.org story, as have all of their PDF versions from Issuu.com.

I’ve been in touch with the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association and I launched an official complaint with the Alberta Press Council. I don’t know what results those will bring, but hopefully we’ll see some sort of investigation and resolution.

UPDATE: According to an article in the Calgary Herald (“Calgary-area newspaper editor resigns following plagiarism allegations”, Steve Jeffrey resigned his position as publisher of The Anchor today (Tuesday). According to the article,

“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,” (Jeffrey) said in an e-mail to the Herald.

Ripped Off Columnists

All links point to at least one stolen newspaper column or blog:

Stories about Steve Jeffrey’s serial plagiarism:

Because I believe in thoroughness and the power of search engine optimization, you can also read stories about Steve Jeffrey’s serial plagiarism at these blogs and newspapers:

 

Photo credit: welcome2bo (Flickr)