By Ben Pollock
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
Updates on the topic follow the article, including: “Suspected Plagiarist Resigns”
Longtime NSNC member George Waters, having read recently about a newspaperman stealing columns from a number of humor writers, “Googled” some of own better lines and found he was paid the compliment of being worth copying. Waters found another apparent serial plagiarist, this one in Canada.
Waters, a Southern California-based humor columnist, looked at a year of this fellow’s weekly texts and found 42 were stolen from 13 writers including himself. One of the others is Sheila Moss, NSNC Web editor.
Waters posted his findings at his own website The “Wa” Blog and contacted the Poynter Institute’s Latest News media journal, where reporter Andrew Beaujon got the assignment, having also covered the Jon Flatland scandal from earlier in March.
Beaujon interviewed the accused, Steve Jeffrey, who runs The Anchor Weekly in Chestermere, Alberta. Jeffrey denies the accusation, adding his “Sittin’ in the Lighthouse” column is serious and about local political issues. A search of the newspaper’s site at noon March 26 found no columns at all online by Steve Jeffrey.
Water’s blog post highlights paragraphs from several of Jeffrey’s columns then paragraphs from the originals.
Moss doesn’t know whether to laugh or rage.
“I’m wondering if I should simply put his name on my website and retire,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“I’m a bit shaken that it is this bad. I’ve been plagiarized before. Usually by a blogger or joke list that does not understand the concept of intellectual property rights. Clearly this is not the case in this situation,” said Moss, a Tennessee resident. “I don’t know what I will do at this point, but at the very least this person needs to be put out of the news biz for good.”
Beaujon interviewed Moss by phone for his article. She pointed out, as did Waters, that Jeffrey actually ran one of Moss’s pieces twice. Moss was favored; 24, rather 23, of the researched columns originally were written by Moss.
“Just flabbergasting, isn’t it?” Moss wrote in her e-mail about this last detail. Technically Jeffrey thus stands accused — if it were a criminal count — of taking only 41 columns in the past year.
Poynter will post updates on the original article. This columnists.com story will post updates as well, here.
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Update, March 27, 2012: Jeffrey denies that his columns constitute plagiarism in an interview with Daniel MacEachern of The Telegram of St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador. Jeffrey said he “used other writers as inspiration,” and MacEachern noted how similar a column of Jeffrey’s was to one written by Telegram columnist Russell Wangersky. Jeffrey apparently also pilfered two other Newfoundland columnists. This article was summarized by Poynter’s Beaujon in a Latest News post Tuesday.
Update, March 27, 2012: George Waters has posted at his “Wa” Blog a follow-up, with details of purloined columns, “Have You No Shame, Sir?”
Update, March 27, 2012: The Calgary Herald reports that Steve Jeffrey has resigned in “Calgary-area Newspaper Editor Resigns Following Plagiarism Allegations.” He told Herald reporter Jason van Rassel in an e-mail, “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.”
Update, March 27, 2012: Poynter. org posts follow-up article. Accused plagiarist Steve Jeffrey resigns from Anchor Weekly.
Update, March 29, 2012: Poynter Institute’s Craig Silverman provides a thoughtful analysis “The Four Types of Serial Plagiarists in Journalism.”
UPDATE, May 23, 2012: Poynter.org reports a settlement: “Steve Jeffrey Apologizes for Plagiarism, Compensates One Writer.” That columnist is former NSNC Web Editor Sheila Moss. Beaujon quotes an email from her 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.'” Waters says in this report that he did not seek a settlement but “Sheila was ripped off so many times it makes sense for her.”