An open letter to Watermark’s Steve Blanchard
FROM: A concerned reader
Dear Mr. Blanchard:
I read with great interest your “Editor’s Desk” column of June 6, 2013 , particularly the portion in which you revealed that one of Watermark’s contributing writers had recently appropriated material from another publication without acknowledgement. (I would have responded earlier, but I honestly hadn’t seen that admission until now, as it was located in the “after the jump” portion of your column, and was thus not visible on any of your site’s other pages.)
I sincerely appreciate the concern for your paper’s reputation, and for the cause of journalism in general, that you say motivated you to divulge this unfortunate situation to Watermark’s readers. “The world of mass media is a tough world to live and work and the free flow of information via new technologies can entice some writers to use inappropriate methods to meet deadlines,” you wrote. “But lifting information from another source without proper attribution is an insult to all of us in journalism, whether it’s newsprint or in new media.” I couldn’t concur more.
With all of that established and agreed upon, I have a few questions to ask:
Why did you at no point name the Watermark contributor who had lifted the content? It’s Erik Caban. Why did you not name the publication he had lifted from? It’s Orlando Weekly. And why did you not identify the writer who had created the content Caban stole? It’s Steve Schneider (see byline, above). These are names that, as I understand it, are all well-known to your readership. So if you were worried about confusing them, I honestly don’t think that would have been a problem.
Also, why did you state that the pilfered material had been limited to “an article”? Actually, the words Mr. Caban pinched had come from two separate Orlando Weekly postings: our reviews of the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival shows God is a Scottish Drag Queen and Celebrity Match Game: The Musical (And a Game Show). I know you were aware of this, as you had removed Mr. Caban’s reviews of both of these shows — as well as all of his other Fringe Festival reviews – from your site as soon as the situation was brought to your attention.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about your admission that Mr. Caban’s Fringe material was not “completely original work,” but rather “strangely and too conveniently similar to a story from another publication.” Do you think that phraseology fully conveys the severity of what had happened? Let’s look at what Orlando Weekly – okay, I – had to say about God is a Scottish Drag Queen:
“Delamont is smart enough to recognize the essential spiritual sweetness at the heart of his routine, and he trusts us to perceive it, too.”
Here’s what Mr. Caban said (I didn’t get a screen grab before you took the content down; you’ll just have to trust me, I guess): “Delamont is smart enough to recognize the essential spiritual sweetness at the heart of his routine, and he trusts his audience to perceive it, too.”
Here’s what I posted to Orlando Weekly about Celebrity Match Game:
“The game itself advances at the pleasant pace of a snail on Maker’s Mark, since the performers – including Wanzie’s helpmate, Douglas White — keep getting recruited to deliver musical numbers instead. They’re taking their marching orders from the disembodied voice of Fringe producer Mike Marinaccio, whose bossy prerecorded instructions frequently step on the live performers’ lines, and sometimes even repeat themselves nonsensically.”
Here’s how it looked under Mr. Caban’s byline:
“…the game/show seems to advance at a snail’s pace. … As part of the staged ‘improv,’ the performers – including co-host, Douglas White — keep getting recruited to deliver over-extended musical numbers by the pre-recorded voice of Fringe producer Michael Marinaccio, whose instructions frequently step on the live performers’ lines and sometimes even repeat themselves senselessly.”
That’s a little more than “strangely similar,” don’t you think? Honestly, I don’t know if I could have recalled that passage so closely without having the relevant Orlando Weekly page open on my screen – and I wrote the thing.
A few more questions here. You told your readers, “You have my word that Watermark will continue to provide original, exciting and accurate content within its pages and online…” Why, then, did you post another article by Mr. Caban mere hours after having to take down his Fringe content? Why is that article still live on your site? Were you not worried that this piece as well could be suspect?
You say that you “researched” the content-swiping “incident” – what does this mean? Readers of your column are left to guess. What were the results of this “research”? Did Mr. Caban admit his wrongdoing to you? All of this remains unsaid in your piece. Will he be allowed to contribute more material to your paper and/or website in the future? If so, under what parameters? Have you not yet decided? If so, when will you? Is your company considering any new internal procedures and protocols to ensure that nothing like this happens again?
These, I’m sure you will understand, are not trivial questions. As you correctly identified, “lifting information from another source without proper attribution” is a serious infraction. That’s why publications that discover they have been guilty of it are customarily expected to own up in full. It’s believed that a complete and public explanation – one that names names — is the only way for them to repair the professional injury they have inflicted on the victimized media outlet. It’s also instrumental in warning readers and other publications alike that the correspondent who did the stealing is not a source to be trusted.
I eagerly await your response to my concerns, which I think you’ll agree are thoroughly valid ones.
Content provider, Orlando Weekly