Tag Archives: Lianne Spiderbaby

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.

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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

 

 

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