Tag Archives: #Spiderbabied

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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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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