It looks like online sites aren’t the only ones getting in trouble for news aggregation anymore. And what better paper to illustrate the decline of journalistic integrity than the Hartford Courant?
Earlier this month, the Courant fired their consumer columnist George Gombossy when he lambasted one of the paper’s key advertisers in an article, a decision that shed some light on the questionable editorial decisions carried out by the nation’s oldest paper.
But even more alarming is this: On August 22, James Smith, a former member of the Courant and currently executive editor of The Herald of New Britain and The Bristol Press, accused the Courant of plagiarizing stories from other local papers. In his scathing column highlighting the tactics of his former paper, he wrote:
Sometimes, and this is most troubling, our coverage will appear virtually word for word, but in a shorter version with no credit. That’s called plagiarism, a fireable offense in any newsroom, as egregious as pandering to advertisers. The once mighty Courant has been reduced to copying from its smaller competition.
The blatant allegation is one usually reserved for blogs and sites like the Daily Beast, but in this case, the Courant sseems equally guilty of breaching journalistic ethics.
Don’t worry, though. The Courant did respond, even if they weren’t so quick to dismiss the heated charge.
After The Journal Inquirer, another Connecticut paper, issued an investigative report validating Smith’s claim, Jeffrey Levine, the Courant’s director of content wrote on August 29th, an entire week after Smith’s column appeared:
We discovered a mistake in our editing process when we take articles from our website to our print newspaper. We found that we inappropriately dropped the attribution or proper credit and in some cases credited ourselves with a byline to a Courant reporter.
Former Courant reporters were unimpressed. Said Paul Stern, who writes a blog for ex-staff members:
Our reading of the statement didn’t leave us with the impression the Courant plans to stop aggregating other papers’ stories.
But maybe the Courant isn’t that out of line. Many bigger papers such as the Seattle Times and the Miami Herald are teaming up with bloggers and small local papers to encompass more local news on their own pages without having to fund their own local reporters.
Of course, these papers know that attribution is a key part of an “overall aggregation strategy,” but Gawker needed some legitimate competition anyway.