This morning, I received the following tweet:
It seems that the Publisher, Dustin Hughes, of the Uintah Basin Standard and Vernal Express published the following apology on Wednesday, May 15:
A column from Uintah Basin Standard / Vernal Express Publisher Kevin Ashby ran in the April 9 and 10 editions of the sister papers that should have never run in the form it did.
An alert reader noticed that large passages from Ashby’s column, roughly three-fourths of it, resembled something he or she had read in the Atlantic Monthly, a monthly magazine with a widespread physical circulation and a large online presence.
The reader sent an anonymous email to the newspaper and to Brehm Communications (the owner of the papers) corporate heads linking to both Ashby’s column and the January 2013 Atlantic Monthly article. Indeed, much of the earlier column was quoted verbatim for much of Ashby’s April column.
This is a serious transgression. Something went wrong and I had to figure out what.
Ashby said that during the writing and editing process of his column, he did rely heavily on the information in the Atlantic Monthly article. Ashby, the head of the two papers and my boss, said he consulted the source material that the Atlantic article quoted for his information.
Ashby said he intended to include a paragraph before leading into the quoted material citing the source, but became rushed and did not do so in the end.
This highlighted several flaws in the process. For starters, time should not have been a factor and he need not have been rushed. Ashby’s column was not timely and could have held for another week for a more thorough review. Indeed, that’s often the case with the columns which appear on page A4 of these papers. There is no need to rush through them. As it happened, the information was submitted the morning of April 8, when the Uintah Basin Standard was being pieced together by staff. It was then reran in the next day’s Vernal Express (the papers are assembled Monday and Tuesday mornings respectively, and hit the stands Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
Also, in my opinion, Ashby should not have included such a large degree of the source material in the first place. More apt would have been to introduce the source and quote perhaps a paragraph or two. This should have been in a way so the reader would know it was not the columnist’s own research and work, but that he was drawing from another source.
In the past, when source material has been quoted more extensively, the source material has been italicized or otherwise set apart as an additional step to let the reader know it’s not the columnist’s own work. That did not happen in this case – an additional failure in the writing process.
Lastly, I should have caught the change in tone and noticed that it did not sound like Ashby’s typical writing style. I did not read it with a critical enough eye and ask enough questions of him about the source and inspiration for the column. That was a failure on my part.
Ashby has expressed remorse and regret at the plagiarism incident and has stressed to me it was not intentional.
The information age has made it easy for anybody to read about any subject that interests them. It also makes it easy to cut and paste that information. And failing to attribute the work is easy to do.
However, that is wrong. It amounts to plagiarism, whether intentional or not and is tantamount to theft of intellectual property.
In the end, all these failures added up to us failing you, the reader, and to Jessica Lahey, the author of the original piece, and to The Atlantic. I need to alert you, the reader, as to what happened.
We need to do better.
Not that I would have known about the apology; neither Dustin Hughes nor Kevin Ashby felt the need to apologize personally, but I understand how they might not want to draw any more attention to their theft.
As the topic of the plagiarized article was failure, and the lessons that can be learned from failing, here's hoping that Kevin Ashby (@vernalpublisher, if you care to tweet him) and Dustin Hughes (firstname.lastname@example.org, if you care to email him) have learned a little something from this particular failure. As the original article is still posted online, it appears they are not too sorry about their theft.
I will be making hay out of this situation by teaching a lesson on plagiarism on Monday in my English classes. At the very least, I can use Kevin Ashby and Dustin Hughes' failures in order to teach my own students how to avoid plagiarizing other writers' work.
Although, I can't imagine one of my students lifting vast swaths of someone else's work, "forget" to attribute it, and publish the words as their own.
But then, my students are people of character.