Tag Archives: Journalism

The 25 Worst Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

12 May
Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Knowing that you could not exist without the arts, but the arts could exist without you on some level.

2. The realisation that you are only ever as good as our last piece, and that last article you wrote wasn’t so great.

3. Finding out what you will only ever be as good as another arts journalist’s last piece, and they really fucked up on that one.

4. The assumption that your words have killed dreams/careers/films/plays/bands stone dead.

5. The constant fear that your words have, in fact, ended the career of a promising director/actor/playwright/writer/musician.

6. The never-ending misunderstandings about what it is that you actually write about, because the umbrella term ‘the arts’ means different things to different people.

For example, if you were to mention that you’re an arts journalist in public, the chances are that somebody in the vicinity will demand your opinion on their latest painting or exhibition, which leads to an awkward conversation where you have to explain that you don’t actually review ‘visual art’, or whatever it is that they do, and that if they’d let you finish your bloody sentence then this awkward conversation would never have happened.

(Obviously, being polite, you will never say the last part of that sentence out loud, but you’ll be screaming it inside your head. Repeatedly. With lots of swear words.)

7. Knowing that you can’t always review the things that you want to, due to time, money and editorial pressure. This will sometimes lead to only the big films/plays/bands getting written about, which is neither right nor fair.

8. Downright cynicism. About everything. Ever.

9. Genuine hunger for the arts being replaced by genuine hunger for food, because you don’t have any money left after paying your bills, thanks to your meagre earnings.

10. The comments on our reviews/previews/articles. The horror. The horror.

11. Juggling your arts journalism work with another job. Sometimes two other jobs.

12. Exhaustion from having 2 or more jobs.

13. Frustration from having far too many jobs and not enough time to dedicate to arts journalism.

14. Knowing, that by not being able to spend enough time on your arts journalism work, that you are disappointing people, including yourself.

15. That nagging sensation that what you do isn’t actually journalism at all and is probably more like PR. An inkling that isn’t helped by this famous quote from George Orwell.

16. The realisation that you will never be able to write as well as George Orwell, and that he probably wouldn’t have liked you very much, anyway.

17. Finding out that a potential writing opportunity is unpaid, but will be great for your portfolio/exposure/experience, according to the editor, who gets paid to get people to work for free.

18. Knowing that your bank will not actually take payment in the form of exposure in lieu of actual cash, even though you assured them that said exposure could lead to paid work “…in the future”.

19. Seeing that other, inexperienced writers will take that unpaid work, thus enabling those companies that can and should pay their workers get away with not paying them.

20. Repeatedly and mysteriously dropping off press distribution lists, which means that you have to sign up to the same press distribution list every few months.

21. Missing exclusives and other important news because you are no longer on said press distribution list for some reason.

22. Being added to distribution lists that you most certainly didn’t sign up to, because someone got hold of your email address.

23. Receiving a badly written, poorly researched and completely unsuitable PR from a PR company, and knowing that the person that wrote it makes at least twice your yearly salary.

24. Your publication running out of budget.

25. Your publication running out of space, because they have to sell more ads now.

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Trash Joins the NUJ

9 Oct
NUJ Protest

NUJ Protest

I am now a card-carrying, Code of Conduct adhering, press freedom defending and proud member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Or as my significant other said when he saw the NUJ acronym on the confirmation letter and my membership card, “Ooooh, you’re a NUDGE!”

Yes, I am a NUDGE. I am an official NUDGE with a card and everything, and I’m really very happy about this. I have a tendency to put things off, and despite meeting with NUJ members at an event designed to get Edinburgh’s student journalists to join the union in 2010, and despite urging others to join the union in my libel blog post, I never got round to it.

There were two reasons for this; first of all, I wasn’t a student, and therefore couldn’t register as a student member. I discussed this with the union representatives, and they said that I could probably register as a Temporary Member in the meantime. Secondly, to join the NUJ, you had to print off and fill out a couple of forms and then have two people NUJ members sign your forms as a kind of reference or endorsement. I did manage to get two people to sign the forms, but my busy schedule meant the forms lay forgotten in my bag until a few months later, when I found them crumpled and ripped and forgotten. I couldn’t send these forms to the NUJ, surely?

Due to my embarrassment at how poorly I’d treated such important documents, I didn’t, and every so often I would remind myself that I really should join the NUJ at some point. That was, until a few months ago, when the union announced that they were letting new members join online. No printing off forms, no signatures, no fuss. So, I took the plunge, and I filled out an online application to be a Temporary Member.

A few weeks later, the NUJ Membership office got in touch to say that they’d reviewed my application, and they felt that I was more suitable for full membership. So, a few changes to my application later, and pending approval from my local office, which could take up to 60 days, I was, unofficially, a member of the NUJ.

My confirmation and membership card came through at the beginning of October, and finally, I was in the union. So, after three years of thinking about joining the union and talking about joining the union, why did I suddenly decide that the time was right? I had two very strong reasons; the NUJ offers support and training to all members. As the NUJ is a union, it endeavours to give all its members a level of protection, whether this is legal assistance, financial support through NUJ Extra and campaigning for better pay and holidays.

Training is very important to me, and throughout the year, the NUJ holds various training days throughout the UK on topics such as freelancing, feature writing, media law and more technical subjects, such as website building. A good journalist should always be learning, but there is only so much that you can teach yourself on the job, so the NUJ offer training days to all members which cost around £100, and are also open to non-members for a slightly larger fee.

While the NUJ has had its problems recently, such as issues with cash flow, it remains an important union for journalists, writers, photographers and everyone involved in the media. it campaigns for our rights and with all the job cuts, redundancies and other issues in the industry, it’s good to know that there are people on our side fighting for the freedoms and interests of journalists, not just in the UK but around the world.

And in a country where the government’s plans for a state regulated press have become a real threat to journalistic freedom, it’s important to stand up and say: “I’m a NUDGE, are you?”

Letter to a Young Journalist

5 Oct
Letter to a Young Journalist

Image by A.K Photography, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Dear Young Journalist,

I want to talk to you about journalism; the path you have chosen. I don’t want to talk about theatre criticism, arts reviewing or news, but journalism as a career. I want to talk to you about the life that you might lead and the people you will meet.

I want to tell you about the nights you will spend alone, writing, editing, researching. The nights you will miss out on because you will be busy, or the evenings you will lose as you edit yet another blog post.

The first thing I want to tell you is that you have to read to be a journalist. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read, and you can’t pitch to publications if you don’t read them. Get subscriptions to the publications you want to write for, and read books whenever you can; on the bus, on your lunch break, in the bath and just before bed.

Secondly, I must tell you that unsurprisingly, (well, it was somewhat of a surprise to me) we journalists aren’t always the most respected, or well-liked people on the planet. We are doubted, questioned and dismissed. You will have your integrity challenged and your writing ridiculed, but you will get used to it.

If the there is a ladder that leads to journalism success, then it’s a very long ladder. I like to imagine that it’s made of wood, that it looks sturdy and strong, it’s the kind of ladder your parents might use to go up to the attic, it’s familiar and seemingly friendly. But appearances are deceptive; this ladder is treacherous in places, and it may be risky at points to climb.

In fact, you may have to go down a couple of rungs before you are able to go further in your career. And some rungs on the ladder are unforgiving. Some rungs are old and not fit for purpose. Be wary of these rungs, they will set you back, and if you put too much weight on one of them it will break and you will fall.

You will not fall far, because you will reach out and grab something, anything to steady yourself, but you must remember falling is inevitable. Falling is what I call failing, such as a job rejection, a missed deadline, a misunderstood brief, etc. I’m going to tell you something that will sound strange to you, but not only will you fail at some point as you attempt to climb that ladder, you are going to fail, and I want you to fail.

From a young age, we are taught to believe that failure is a bad thing, that failure is the worst thing we can ever do, but I disagree. It is only when we fail that we can truly learn from our experiences. I’ve failed at this many times; missing job deadlines, not staying in touch with contacts, etc, but it’s how we deal with out failures that really matters. The trick is to go with it, so if you feel sad, allow yourself to cry, if you’re angry, then find a way to healthily express that anger.

Do what you have to do, just pick yourself up and move on with new knowledge, and safeguards to stop yourself committing the same mistake again.

Next we need to discuss money, because if you’re going into journalism for the wage, then you’re going to get a shock. We don’t make a lot of money, because journalism isn’t very well paid, and it’s getting even harder to make money from it. So, you’re going to do a lot of unpaid work in the beginning to build up your portfolio and have something concrete to show an editor. Once you have experience and once you’ve started to get pretty good and reliable, then start asking for money.

No one is going to pay you for the hell of it, you will have to prove that you are worth paying. Never undersell yourself, know your worth and know the law. There are many internships in journalism, some of them are really great, but others won’t lead anywhere; be hungry, but wise and know the law.

The current law on internships in the UK is that all interns are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, so those internships that offer travel expenses, lunch expenses, or offer expenses at the end of a three-month internship – avoid them like the plague. Your time and your future is worth so much, so again, read, be aware of your rights and stand up for yourself. Intern does not mean ‘subhuman’ never forget that.

That’s all I can say for now, I’ll see you on the ladder.

Cheers,

Trash

We Need to Talk About Plagiarism

27 Sep
Image by ▲Bonard▼, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by ▲Bonard▼, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

We need to talk about plagiarism. We really need to talk about plagiarism. Why? Because it exists, and to paraphrase a film critic friend of mine: “It seems like there’s a new plagiarism scandal in journalism every month.”

He’s right, it does feel like that, and from recent examples like Lianne ‘The Queen of Cut and Paste’ Spiderbaby, to Shaun Munro and T.J. Barnard from WhatCulture! it feels like the journalism industry has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As a journalist, all you have is your integrity, and once that’s gone, you have nothing. You are only ever as good as your last article, you will only ever be as good as the best article that you have ever written. Plagiarism never benefits anyone because once the plagiarism is uncovered – and it will be uncovered – then the writer and their publication will lose credibility and respect.

What shocks me is when people try to stick up for the plagiariser; although nine times out of ten, these are usually fans of the writer, who don’t work within the industry, but there have been exceptions. Tim Lucas, the editor of Video Watchdog, made a very premature statement supporting Spiderbaby when her plagiarism was discovered, which he was then forced to retract when it became clear that she had in fact, plagiarised the articles that she’d written for him too.

It’s odd that when a plagiarism scandal erupts, that many editors will stand by the plagiariser despite proof of their wrongdoing. For example, in 2011, Simon Kelner, then editor of The Independent, stood by Johann Hari after evidence of plagiarism and other questionable behaviour was brought to light. Instead of being sacked, Hari was suspended and sent for ‘retraining’ in the US. He handed back his Orwell Prize, made an “evasive” public apology, but didn’t personally apologise to the writers that he had stolen from.

During his suspension, Hari decided not to return to the paper, and while both Hari and Kelner have since left The Independent, The paper’s reputation was badly damaged, just as Hari’s reputation was severely damaged by his plagiarism. So, despite Kelner standing by Hari, it was all for nothing; everyone came off badly because of his plagiarism and their failure to deal with it properly.

Obviously, an editor must support their staff, but when a staff member has plagiarised someone else’s work, then they must also protect their publication. So, why then, do some editors reveal their loyalty to a plagiariser, when a plagiariser, by definition, is incapable of thinking of anyone but themselves? In the case of WhatCulture! their initial reaction was to continue as normal by not commenting on the accusations, and continuing to publish work by both the writers in question.

A few days later, and after significant pressure, they broke their silence, saying:

WhatCulture! Initial Statement

WhatCulture! Initial Statement

Although the editors may have thought that by acknowledging the scandal, they were then dealing with it, these tweets only created more questions. What processes? What disciplinary procedures? What steps had been put in place? By not being transparent and open about what exactly they were doing, WhatCulture! were complicit in their silence; it looked like they were supporting the plagiarisers on their team over basic journalistic integrity.

Unsurprisingly, no one felt that this was good enough, and not long after, WhatCulture! released an official statement on the scandal. They apologised profusely, not just to the writers whose work was stolen, but tellingly, they also apologised to the plagiarisers for putting them under too much pressure. Additionally, the offered compensation to all the writers who had been ripped off. It was a long time coming, and while the editors were initially slow to act, they did claw back some respect.

There are two very positive lessons that we can take from these recent plagiarism scandals. The first is that for every plagiariser, there is someone, somewhere who is willing to put the time and effort to research their output and find examples of plagiarism. So, for every Lianne Spiderbaby, there is Mike White, and for every Shaun Munro and T.J. Barnard, there is Maxwell Yezpitelok, Simon Columb and Ali Gray, willing to blow the whistle, to hold critics to account and to reveal the extent of every bad journalist’s unethical practices.

The second lesson is that each time this happens, each time someone is caught plagiarising, the net tightens just a little bit more. People get angrier, editors get more wary and publications continue to crack down on this immoral and unethical behaviour. Exposing plagiarism in all its forms, whether it is uncovered in art, design, photography, film, music, journalism, poetry and academia forces us to confront it head on. It makes representatives of all these industries start to think about how they can make their respective disciplines better and more trustworthy.

In the case of journalism, the industry is under enough threat from outside forces for it to be destroyed by a series of bad journalists. As a collective we are already dealing with their being not enough jobs, little money, a lack of job security and cuts. Take a look at the new arts section from the Independent On Sunday, where it was decided that sacking all their arts critics – each of them well-respected writers with years of experience – was preferable to publishing ‘reviews’ like this.

Clearly, this attitude isn’t good enough, and when editors and publications fail to properly deal with plagiarists, it not only undermines our industry; it damns us all. Inaction will be the death of arts journalism; not online content, not a lack of advertising, but apathy. Our apathy will kill the industry.

Publishing bad writers with poor ethics and an even worse attitude is not a good idea, and editors and publishers must stand up to these people. Their inaction condones the writer’s behaviour and ensures that they will get away with it time and time again. It’s time to make a stand, to send a message to say that plagiarism will not, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

It’s time to talk about plagiarism. We really need to talk about plagiarism. Why? Because we can’t keep letting this happen in journalism.

Adventures in Editing Or How Editing Taught Me to Be A Better Journalist

13 Sep
Editor Image by dave pike, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by dave pike, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Recently, I marked the end of an era. Earlier this month I stepped down from my role as The Public Reviews’ Scotland Editor, and passed the responsibility onto my successor, the more-than-qualified and very talented, Lauren Humphreys of Glasgow Theatre Blog.

I began my role at The Public Reviews straight after my three-year tenure as The Journal‘s Theatre Editor, and after four years of commissioning, editing, publishing and generally looking after other people, I decided that it was time to look after me.

So, in May this year, I told my boss, Editor John, that this Fringe would be my last as Scotland editor. There are many reasons for this, but the main reason was that I longed to have more time to write. I’ll miss the perks of getting editor’s choice on shows that I really, really want to review and I’ll miss ranting about the innumerable bad PRs that littered my inbox like discarded shopping trolleys on wasteland but, I need to write, and I want to be a better writer.

However, my time as an editor hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned so much, not just about my own writing, but  also managing people, and dealing with truly terrible PR pitches. Working as an editor for the last four years has taught me so much about journalism, communication and other issues.

So, here are my top 5 lessons that I believe that everyone who aspires to be in the media should learn.

Read Your Emails

I proofread and sense check my emails to ensure that what I’ve said is clear and easy to understand. However, there are those that don’t do this, and their emails usually consist of unclear demands, spelling and grammatical errors and bizarre sentences.

After they hit send I have to try to translate the bloody mess they deposited in my inbox, which I don’t enjoy, and I usually email them back and enquire about what it is that they want. Use punctuation, have a clear message and tell me what you want, I don’t have the time to second guess anything.

I don’t know if there was something in the water in Edinburgh in August, but I encountered a few writers who weren’t reading my emails properly. At the beginning of the Fringe I sent out a link to a spreadsheet for writers to fill in with their ticket requests, which was designed to stop any double bookings and make the whole process as open and transparent as possible to everyone involved.

One writer started trying to book tickets for shows that we’d already reviewed. When I emailed them and asked them to look at the spreadsheet more carefully, they emailed back asking, “What spreadsheet?”

Another writer got confused with the spreadsheet, and thought I was allocating shows to specific people and that they’d missed out. If they’d read my email properly, they would have known that this wasn’t the case. Another writer double booked a show because they didn’t pay attention to the spreadsheet, which clearly stated another writer had booked a ticket to that performance.

If you want to get on the good side of your editor, it’s a good idea to read every single email you get from them at least once. If you’re not sure about what they’re asking, email them back and ask them to clarify.

Respect Boundaries

From weddings, to illness, to engagements and the old trope, computer problems, there are many things that conspire to stop a writer filing their copy on time.

I’ve heard nearly every excuse in the book, and while I understand that writers have lives and they might get engaged/married/be too busy planning their wedding to file copy by deadline, I have the venue breathing down my neck, so all I care about is the review.

I know that sounds heartless, but editors have a job to do, and a publication’s reputation to uphold, so their investment is in the article. I’m friendly with my writers and count some of them as friends, but I’ve found that it’s odd how easily people will open up to you when you’re in a position of authority. It’s good that they feel they can be honest with you, but sometimes, when you’ve only had a handful of emails from someone, and suddenly they’re telling you about how they split with their partner/lost their job/their dog died and that’s why they’ve not been answering emails, it’s just a little too much.

Just say you’ve had some personal problems, your editor doesn’t need to know any more unless it’s something that they can help with or if it’s something that will affect your ability to write for the publication in the long term.

Enthusiasm Means Very Little

Enthusiasm is great, enthusiasm and drive is what got me to where I am today. However, in my experience, when I have encountered a writer who has been overly enthusiastic about writing reviews for me, alarm bells have gone off in my head immediately. Because that kind of energy never lasts, and it usually hides something else.

The first enthused writer turned out to be a prolific, or to use the nickname given to the late Sir David Frost, a “bubonic plagiarist” who couldn’t write an original piece of work if her life depended on it. She was also studying journalism, because wonders never cease.

The second super-anxious writer had my back up from the very beginning; he sent me a link to his portfolio, but had not made it accessible online, so he then animatedly cornered me at a press night, telling me how much he wanted to review for me. However, without my knowledge or consent, he was also submitting the reviews he sent to me to another site, which meant that we couldn’t publish them without permission from that publication, or we would be accused of plagiarism.

When this was explained to the writer, he said: “Well, I knew it was a grey area…” It’s not a grey area, it’s very clear, so never assume that you know something: if you’re unsure, ask the editor.

Another seemingly passionate writer was so excited to be reviewing during the Fringe that she claimed that she nearly fainted with excitement when she passed one of the Fringe venues before the festival started. Her emails told me how delighted she was to be working at the Fringe, until suddenly, after reviewing 5 shows, she emailed to say that she couldn’t review as something had come up.

A few weeks later a theatre company contacted us to say that this writer had booked to see their show (not to review it, but as a paying member of the public) and had asked for a refund. Unfortunately, during this email conversation, they mentioned that they were a reviewer, which made the company defensive, as it sounded as if the writer was trying to use their reviewing status to get their money back.

I don’t think they were trying to do this, and it could be that because of their lack of experience in the industry that they naively thought this it would ok, but they reacted very defensively to my emails asking them about it. They refused to explain anything and they told me I’d handled the situation very badly and demanded to be taken off our reviewing team.

After this, I kept the enthusiastic ones at arm’s length. It’s usually the safest thing to do for me. Be keen, just not overly keen, because it doesn’t last.

Assume Nothing

I know that I’m repeating a point I made earlier in the post, but if I could give new writers one piece of advice, then it would be this: never assume, always ask for clarification.

If you’re booking your tickets, and you’ve not heard back from the venue, don’t assume that the tickets are there, phone the venue press office and ask. This will save you time and energy later on.

If you’re not sure about something an editor has asked you to do, email them back and ask again. I would say that most of the problems that I have had to deal with as an editor have stemmed from people not being clear and doing what they think is right, not what is right. Remember, your editor was new at this once too, email, call, text, tweet, just get in touch with them and ask.

If you have not heard from your editor, email them again and reconnect. Inboxes fill up quickly, so you need to keep pushing yourself to the top of the pile. Don’t assume that an editor has asked you to do something, or wants you to do something. Email and ask.

The Editor Is Not Always Right

Despite appearances, editors are only human, they aren’t infallible, and they make mistakes. However, unlike writers, editors have a lot more responsibility on their shoulders, and have to consider a number of issues.

The editor’s word is final, so arguing with them is not always a good idea, but if you feel that they’ve made an error, you have the right to reply. I was once a little heavy-handed when editing a review, and the writer sent me a very strong email, arguing that they refused to be “censored” and other words informing me that they were really very cross about what I’d done.

We eventually came to an agreement, and they were happy, but I stand by my initial thoughts that a synopsis should never be two paragraphs long, ever.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t argue with the editor when you’re applying for work, because the editor knows the publication they work for better than you, and gets emails from people like you everyday. Persistence is a great trait to have, but don’t take it too far, and remember to be thankful for any feedback that you get, because in this industry, you won’t get very much.

Shit EdFringe Critics Never Say

8 Aug
Image by Camilla Hoel, used under a Creative Commons License

Image by Camilla Hoel, used under a Creative Commons License

1. That company sent me 5 different versions of the same PR! How helpful.

2. I will absolutely be at your show.

3. I just love the sound of the phone ringing. Constantly ringing.

4. Look at all the lie-ins I get to have this week!

5. Deadlines don’t matter at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

6. Excuse me, please, I’m in a rush to get to my venue and you are in the way. Thank you so much!

7. I’ve had enough coffee for today.

8. Oh, I had such a good night’s sleep last night. I feel so well-rested.

9. Of course you can have my number.

10. I have so much free time on my hands!

11. No coffee for me, thanks.

12. Nothing cheers me up more than an email with 22 attachments.

13. I don’t mind you playing with your phone during the performance at all.

14. Are you on Google+?

15. You can never have too many flyers.

16. I’m not hungry.

17. Everything is going to plan.

18. Someone’s written a comment below my review. I love my fans!

19. I’m glad that person keeps calling me asking for a review, it really keep me on my toes.

20. I haven’t been rushing around this year at all.

21. Look at all this money I’m getting paid!

Trash Interviews Mike White

30 Jul
Mike White, photo credit Larry Whithers

Mike White, photo credit Larry Whithers

Following the furore over the recent revelation that the horror journalist, Lianne Spiderbaby, had plagiarised the vast majority of her work, with evidence of plagiarism uncovered in her college thesis and upcoming book, I reached out to Mike White of Impossible Funky, who broke the original story for an interview.

He agreed, and here is the interview republished in full, which covers Mike’s perspective on being a whistleblower (again), plagiarism, author image and publishing work online.

 

You broke the news that Lianne Spiderbaby was a “serial plagiariser” but you have been careful to stress that your post was the result of an anonymous tip-off. Can you take me back to when you received that email? What was it about the story that interested you?

The email sent out on the Wednesday prior to the story breaking was not sent to me. I’m still not 100% sure of who put together that initial email which was subsequently forwarded to me on Friday July 12, 2013. That email may have been put together by John Timmerson (based on Tim Lucas’s post on the Video Watchdog blog).

Though I’m not really big on using the phone, I took a call on that Friday. This was my source of the whole story. This person told me about the email and even suggested the title, “Who Girlfriend Think You’re Fooling?” To be honest, I had only ever heard of Lianne Spiderbaby once before, via a podcast from Rue Morgue and didn’t get the positioning of “girlfriend” with “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” until after I received the forwarded email from my source and, after doing some research, saw that Lianne has been Quentin Tarantino’s girlfriend. Now things suddenly made a lot more sense; not just the title but also why this story should come to me. I don’t have much of a reputation (thus not being included on the initial email, I suppose) except for that of being a muckraker when it comes to Quentin Tarantino and his “influences”.

Initially, it was the idea of such blatant plagiarism that interested me. The addition of a Tarantino connection to the story made it too juicy to resist. It was like dangling a piece of raw meat before a (reservoir) dog.

I heard that (and correct me if I’m wrong) that the same email that you received was also sent to the various publications that Spiderbaby wrote for, yet you were the one to break the story. Why do you think that the other publications stayed silent on this issue initially?

I can not confirm the recipients of the email except via inference (again, going back to Tim Lucas’s post). Likewise, I can only speculate as to why Mr. Lucas or any other editor at any publication Lianne wrote for might have remained silent. I would imagine that there was a good deal of denial and betrayal involved in those initial reactions. Likewise, there needed to be a way to regroup and minimize the damage to the reputation of those publications. No one likes to be made a fool of and that’s precisely what Ms. Spiderbaby had been doing — not just to her readers but to her employers and friends as well. The pause in reaction may have come from a combination of shock at the implications along with a need to regroup and handle the situation.

Why did I go ahead and publish? Because I had no skin in the game. I’ve never met Ms. Spiderbaby nor have I published her. Additionally, I had no reputation to tarnish.

Did you ever have any doubt in your mind about running the story?

Of course! Hearing the initial description of a movie reviewer who may have lifted some of her work seemed like a little “gotcha” that might have made a good footnote. It wasn’t until I started confirming the contents of the emails I was forwarded (my source had also done some research), that I realized the extent of the plagiarism and knew someone had to do something about it. In the days that followed, dozens of other instances came to light, going all the way back to her college papers. I’m glad I overcame my initial doubt.

You’ve previously highlighted the similarities between Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Ring Lam’s City On Fire (1987) in articles and in your short film, Who Do You Think You’re Fooling? (1994) and the follow-up, You’re Still Not Fooling Anyone (1997). Why do you think these similarities, and the similarities in his other work are often overlooked or passed off as ‘homage’.

I think it’s easier ignore them and go on saying that the emperor is fully dressed. Certainly, Tarantino has toned down his outright lifts of plot points, dialogue, and shot composition; getting better at the art of collage (as homage) over the years. I also don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I also think that having the Weinstein’s behind him has also had a hand in shaping the media’s reporting. From the start of his career, Tarantino garnered a reputation of being able to revitalize careers and boost sales of “has been” actors. I think that a lot of people have reconsidered speaking out against him for fear that they might be on the “short list” of people he might name drop or push only to fall by the wayside again. Again, that sounds a little conspiratorial but let’s not forget that Tarantino and the Weinstein’s had a reputation for making (and more on the Weinstein side, breaking) people, careers and films a success.

Why do you think that when a scandal like this is uncovered that some people will attempt to defend and diminish the actions of the plagiariser and smear the integrity of the whistleblower?

Once you’ve believed the story it easier to go on believing it. Hearing someone tell you a different story can make you very mad. It’s easier to lash out. What makes me laugh about the situation is that Lianne publicly admitted her plagiarism (albeit in a fairly cowardly way — a single tweet before disappearing). So, it’s not like anyone can really deny that she stole what she wrote. It’s where people go from there that’s amusing. Some revel in her downfall, some accuse her detractors as being jealous, others chide people into “moving on” and putting the incident behind us all.

One defence  or even, criticism of Spiderbaby’s plagiarism is her age; it’s either used to defend her actions, “Oh, she’s only young” etc or it’s used to highlight a supposed trend or casual attitude towards plagiarism in younger people. As a young person, I find this quite patronizing, but do you feel plagiarism is more endemic in the younger generation, or is it simply getting easier to find examples of plagiarized work thanks to the internet?

Unless things have changed greatly with school systems, it’s still being taught that plagiarism is wrong. Footnotes have not gone out of style. Even Wikipedia are sticklers for sources.

I don’t get the ageism thing though “in my day” it was all about going to the library and going through the mouldering books, maybe jotting down quotes on a 3X5 card, writing the source on the back. Perhaps copying and pasting is too tempting for people in the modern age but even within the confines of HTML there are several tags created just for quoting and citing the work of others. It should be just as easy to give credit where it’s due than it is to copy big blocks of text and claim them as your own. I certainly hope that’s not what the cool kids are doing these days.

You raised a really interesting point about Spiderbaby on your blog recently. You said: “Is there more value in the “image” of the author than the actual output?” Do you think journalism now has more interest in the Spiderbaby image, or indeed, brand?

The jury is still out for me. I find it fascinating that one person can get paid or notoriety built on the work of others. It seems that Lianne found a really good way to market herself and, for that reason, I think that the Lianne Spiderbaby “brand” managed to succeed where others — the people that actually wrote the words — didn’t. Now, to be fair, Lianne was stealing from everywhere. From reviewers on Amazon to film scholars. Maybe Lianne is just an environmentalist, choosing to recycle film writing rather than pollute the world with more.

But, yes, I can definitely see some value in the “brand” of one person over that of another. I know journalists who have either been turned down for jobs or removed so that Lianne could take their place. She had status. She had a degree (based on bogus work it seems). She had a reputation. After a while, people are going to want Lianne Spiderbaby™ rather than Joe Schmoe the guy who has been blogging and writing for years (and who knows his ass from a hole in the ground).

As well as breaking this story, you revealed that the introduction to Spiderbaby’s much-hyped book, the as yet unpublished Grindhouse Girls: Cinema’s Hardest Working Women had also been plagiarised from various sources. Did you expect to find there would be plagiarism in the book too? Do you think the book will be published in its current form?

To be fair, I believe that it’s more like a her book proposal than the actual final intro. That first chapter is way too short. So, I think that things may get cleaned up and I would hope against hope that her publisher would do a better job of footnoting than Lianne did.

Learning Lianne’s track record over the last few weeks, I fully expected to find plagiarism there when I cracked open the document. She didn’t disappoint. However, the majority of the writing is her talking about her background. This isn’t plagiarized as much as it seems fabricated. Her discussion of the “glory days” of Times Square seems like a romanticized version sold to her by people who had never been there.

I’m not sure how far Lianne’s gotten with her manuscript. The bulk of it is interviews, I think she should be okay if she could actually rewrite the intros without lifting anything from them. Perhaps St. Martin’s Press would consider hiring a ghostwriter for her. But, that would be too sad, wouldn’t it? A so-called “writer” needing a ghost writer?

Were you surprised by the horror journalism industry’s reaction to the story?

Reaction or lack of reaction, I suppose. So far I’ve only read two responses — though one was changed a few times. Both of these reactions seem to be coming from either a deeply personal place or someplace where they feel they need to cover their tracks. The immediate “it’s time to move on” felt premature and slightly suspicious.

After the initial story broke, some very big mainstream publications picked up the story; why do you think there’s been relative silence from the media and Spiderbaby since then?

I don’t know if I was deluded or not but I thought that the whole “Spiderbaby scandal” went beyond the scope of just “genre journalism” but maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe the story has been squashed. It just seems off that as quickly as the story went “big” it died down again. It could have just been timing. Too many people too jazzed for Comic Con or wringing their hands about other news stories.

Horror journalism has been rocked by a similar plagiarism scandal before, [The Dark Side scandal] how do you think the industry can safeguard against this happening again and build trust amongst readers and writers again?

There are fact-checkers in our industry (or should be). Perhaps a content-checker would also be a viable position. However, as a publisher myself (of Cashiers du Cinemart), I rely on working with people of integrity. I don’t know if I’m just walking a primrose path or if I’ve been incredibly lucky or if I’m just a good judge of character but I know my micropublication doesn’t compare to larger organizations where not everyone can be vetted by years of friendship and correspondence. I’m still curious to hear how the other publications that put out Lianne’s work will respond. If they don’t at least address the issue — even to brush it off — it says to me that there’s a larger problem.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers about publishing their work online? Is plagiarism a sad by-product of the internet, or something we should feel confident about reporting?

I think all plagiarists should be reported and shamed. There’s not much else that can be done, alas. Throwing a copyright notice on your work or even going the Creative Commons route really means diddly in the overall scheme of things. If people want to rip off your work, they’ll rip it off. Just be vigilant. And, moreover, be distinctive. It was Lianne’s lack of an author’s “voice” or, rather, the use of someone else’s, that got her in trouble. If an aspiring writer doesn’t know what I mean by “voice” then they should do some research and think about how they want to be represented in the internet or how they can make themselves stand apart.

Lianne Spiderbaby Didn’t Plagiarise Me, But I’m Angry Anyway

20 Jul
Lianne Spiderbaby, Plagiarist

Lianne Spiderbaby, Plagiarist

There is a very, very special place in Hell for people who plagiarise other writers’ work and pass it off as their own.

Recently, Lianne Spiderbaby (real name Lianne MacDougall), a well-known figure in the horror industry, who wrote for many horror publications, including FEARnet, Fangoria, Video Watchdog and was one of the hosts of the Fright Bytes YouTube channel was revealed to be a prolific plagiariser by Mike White of Impossible Funky.

Following an anonymous tip, White compiled a detailed and damning report into MacDougall’s body of work, which revealed that most of her articles, including her popular Spiderbaby’s Terror Tapes column on FEARnet, were not her own work, and had been largely ripped off from a number of other writers. Following the publication of this blog post, and the media attention surrounding this story, (MacDougall is, according to reports, dating Quentin Tarantino, himself no stranger to plagiarism controversies), more examples of MacDougall’s habit of passing off other people’s work as her own was discovered.

I’m not going to waste time and energy trying to work out what MacDougall’s motivation was for plagiarising other, and often unpaid writers, because, I don’t care about why she did it. I don’t particularly care about MacDougall, or her alter-ego, or who she may or may not be in a relationship with. I care about the writers she plagiarised, I care about the horror community, and I care about journalism.

When a someone is caught plagiarising, it’s not usually a first time offence. They could have been getting away with it for weeks, months, perhaps even longer. And when their plagiarism is uncovered, they are only sorry that they have been caught. Plagiarism destroys a writer’s reputation, it damages the reputation of the publication that writer worked for and it brings the journalism industry into disrepute. When someone decides to plagiarise someone else’s work, everyone loses.

In MacDougall’s case, each of the publications she has written for has been damaged in their own way, especially those that tried to defend her when the news of her plagiarism went viral. It’s embarrassed the horror community, a community where women aren’t as well represented as men. It will have affected the people who read her work, and her editors, but it’ll have hurt the unpaid or underpaid writers that she stole from, it’ll have hurt the bloggers that write because of their love of writing and film, and those that write in the hope of furthering their careers.

Plagiarists don’t deserve to be defended by publications, or have publications running scared about reporting the news of their lack of journalistic merit or talent, they deserve our condemnation. Plagiarists can’t plead ignorance; it’s well-known that plagiarism is deemed by many industries to be highly unethical. It’s not allowed in schools, colleges, or universities, in fact, it can get you expelled from all three of them. It is, essentially, the theft of another person’s intellectual property; it’s lazy, it’s selfish and it’s a very, very stupid thing to do.

I will never forget the day that I experienced plagiarism for the first time. I was a few months into my role of theatre editor at The Journal when I got a call from my editor, asking about a review written by one of my writers, a girl I will call Emma, for that was her name. Emma was studying a Journalism Masters, she was attentive, always asking for more reviewing work, and often asking for feedback on her pieces. I was pretty new at this editing lark, so I spent a lot of time giving her detailed notes and editing her reviews, which were often over the word count.

One publication weekend, a sub editor discovered similarities between Emma’s review of a dance piece, and a review of the same performance which had been published by another publication a few days earlier. The sub editor then checked her other reviews, and found that they had all been plagiarised in varying degrees from a number of sources, including one national publication and a local paper. In some cases, entire paragraphs had been copied and pasted into her copy. In others, some sentences bore striking similarities to other reviews of the same show. However, luckily, in more than one case, I’d unwittingly removed large parts of the plagiarised copy while editing her ‘work’.

Emma was confronted and denied everything, despite the evidence to the contrary. Emma was fired. However, Emma continued her course, graduated and the last thing I heard was that she was working for the BBC. But Karma catches up with everyone, eventually.

While MacDougall has so far said very little on the subject bar releasing one meagre tweet apologising for the “plagiarism in my work” (here’s a hint, if you plagiarise other people’s writing, it’s not your “work”, it’s theirs) it’s not enough. MacDougall has treated these writers, publications and the horror industry at large with utter contempt, displaying an unbelievable amount of cowardice along the way.

Her failure to answer for her actions, or attempt to redress the wrongs that she has committed is as infuriating as it is disappointing. It’s only right that she should face the consequences for her actions, although some are questioning whether this will happen at all, thanks to MacDougall’s position and her attempts at damage control, which included shutting down her blog and Twitter account, blaming her intern and pleading with editors to remove articles discussing her plagiarism.

Journalism is a very difficult industry to get into, especially given the current economic climate. The industry is constantly being questioned and analysed, it has suffered from recent scandals, from the rise of print journalism, from the loss of revenue. But the industry has suffered most from the loss of trust that has resulted from unethical practises, such as plagiarism, phone hacking and other sleazy methods that hurt people and damage journalism.

Lianne Spiderbaby has been damned by her own web of lies and deceit, and so, it’s up to the rest of us to salvage what we can and start building up trust with readers once more.

UPDATE:

After I wrote this post, I read BJ Colangelo’s posts on her fantastic Day Of The Woman blog, naming some of the best female horror journalists working in the industry right now.

These lists are super awesome, and it would be criminal not to celebrate the amazing work that these women are doing in the field.

And no, none of these amazing women are plagiarists!

Part One:

http://dayofwoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/female-horror-journalists-you-should-be.html

Part Two:

http://dayofwoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/female-horror-journalists-you-should-be_18.html

 

 

The 10 Commandments of the Successful Critic

15 Jun
Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

1. I am the Editor, thy employer. Thou shalt turn up to the performance/show/film/gig that thou art reviewing on time, wherein thou shalt be able to arrive calm, content and able to review the piece in question.

2. Thou shalt research the work that thou art reviewing, be it the previous work of the performers/actors/director/writer, so that thou shalt know what thou is talking about, and won’t give the impression that thou art talking out of thy ass.

3. Thou shalt act as a respectable member of thy’s publication team when reviewing. This includes not overdoing it with the free alcohol and then embarrassing oneself because of said alcohol.

4. Thou shalt file copy on time and within the word limit.

5. Thou shalt not steal work from another writer, be they living or dead and pass it off as thine own. Plagiarism will be discovered, and thou will only set thyself back by ripping off the intellectual property of others.

6. Thou shalt be respectful to venue staff, including FOH staff, PR people and press officers.

7. Thou shalt write about more than the performance; thou shalt consider the cultural, political, social and historical context of a piece. Criticism must move beyond the tired “It looked nice, it was acted well” narrative.

8. Thou shalt write with brevity and clarity; why write a 20 word filler sentence when a simple 10 words will do?

9. Thou shalt proofread thy’s own work before sending it to thou’s editor.

10. Thou shalt be prepared to listen to constructive criticism of thine work, and thou shalt take this criticism to heart.

Some Advice For Aspiring Writers

30 May
Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I have, on occasion, been asked for advice by a young writer looking to grow their career. However, I also am, in one form or another, a young writer looking for my so-called “big break”. I have asked established journalists questions about how they got to where they are, I have poured over countless YouTube videos of interviews with my favourite writers, looking for that one sentence that would transform me from mere aspiring writer, to professional, in-demand and well-respected behemoth of a writer.

As it turns out, there is no definite answer; everyone has a different story. Some writers trained in journalism, some have an undergraduate degree, maybe even a postgraduate degree. Others fell into journalism by chance, after doing a degree in English or another language, some got onto coveted training schemes and bagged promising apprenticeships. The lucky ones had a friend who was influential in the industry, and managed to get themselves a good job that way.

If I wasn’t watching YouTube videos, I spoke to just about every journalist I met. Almost everyone I spoke to had come into the industry differently, some said having a postgraduate degree in anything was a waste of time, while others said that they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for their qualifications. During an internship in London, at least two of the journalists I was working with advised me without any irony or malice, that I shouldn’t try to get into get into journalism, because there were no jobs, and things were only going to get worse.

In short, every answer I got, while interesting, confused me more. Should I go to back to university? I don’t have the money to do that. Should I do an NCTJ course? Should I try to diversify and start adding more skills to my CV? All the options available were so overwhelming that I felt like I was going struggling up a spiral staircase; I was moving, I was heading towards some kind of goal, but I wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was frustrating, it was tiring, it was not helpful at all.

And this is my advice; if you want to be a writer, write. Write as often as you can during the day, write in the evening, and then write again the next morning. Set yourself a goal to get up in the morning and write a specific amount of words before lunch, then smash that number.

Don’t forget to read, a writer needs to read and remember how to get lost in the literary worlds that other authors create for them. Reading is a joy, reading should never be a chore, if you don’t read anything, then how can you expect anyone to read your work?

And finally, here’s my golden rule: don’t ask other writers for advice. I’m serious. Every writer has a different story; every writer has a distinct background and voice. Their past is not your future, so create your own career path and carve your own journey in stone. Don’t strive to be a second-rate version of your favourite writer, be a first-rate version of yourself. Don’t imitate, create and never be afraid of doing the things that your idols didn’t do.

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