Public Eye 

The Internet is a treasure trove of ideas for enterprising journalists -- but that doesn't mean it's OK to lift a story and recast it in print without accrediting the original source.

On July 2, Gazette columnist Warren Epstein wrote a story about Focus on the Family president James Dobson and his influence over Procter & Gamble, which recently pulled their ads from two MTV shows.

The story was subsequently sent out by wire services. And when Kerry Lauerman, the Washington Bureau Chief of Salon.com, read Epstein's piece, he wasn't amused.

"Just about everything in the story, as far as I can tell, appeared in a story I wrote for Salon.com about three weeks ago," Lauerman noted in an e-mail that was sent to Gazette editors last week.

In Lauerman's opinion, imitation can be flattering, but stealing is offensive. "These things rarely rankle me, but this guy totally ripped me off without any credit. Outrageous," he said.

"I'm not usually that uncomfortable with other publications picking up our work, but this seems particularly egregious," he wrote to the Gazette. "Epstein even used my reference to the products Pampers, Cover Girl, and Clearasil -- in the same order, even -- when he could have chosen from literally hundreds of P&G products.

"An apology would be fine, but you also need to print a correction, explaining where the information came from -- as well as send one to the [Associated Press], which picked up the story."

The Gazette declares its commitment to accuracy on the front page of its Metro section, offering regular space there for corrections and clarifications. But in this case, the editors apparently thought clearing up the snafu did not warrant up-front placement.

Instead, on July 6, Epstein added the following short tag at the end of his media column that appears in the Life section of the paper. Titled "Giving credit where credit's due," Epstein wrote: "My recent story about Focus on the Family's meeting with Proctor & Gamble that led to the corporate giant pulling its ads from two MTV shows actually was a follow-up on a report by salon.com."

Lauerman conceded that the "follow-up" acknowledgement was weak, but said he was OK about the outcome.

"I'm a pushover when somebody backs down -- and [Epstein] did right away," Lauerman said, "though he initially said it was a 'gray area,' which is preposterous."

Salon's story can be found at www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/06/20/ schlessinger/index.html

And the Gazette's version can be reviewed at http://www.gazette.com/ archive/00-07-02/daily/loc7.html

TV viewers who are force-fed a copious daily menu of fluff and violence disguised as news have lost one of their staunchest advocates. Paul Klite, executive director of Denver-based Rocky Mountain Media Watch, died of cancer on June 24. He was 62.

Klite helped found Media Watch in 1994 to challenge the increasing focus on puffery, brutality and commercialism that constitutes most TV news programs. He became one of the nation's foremost critics of local TV news and in 1996 received a Media Hero Award from the San Francisco-based Institute for Alternative Journalism.

His own life was rich and varied. Long before he became a media critic, Klite was a successful physician, and then spent 15 years as a sculptor. From 1989 to 1992, he produced a weekly public radio series on social and environmental issues.

Under Klite's direction, RMMW tracked the content of TV news programs around the country. Yearly, Klite issued a report detailing their findings, and they were usually alarming. For example, in the 1998 report, "Not in the Public Interest," RMMW found that more than 40 percent of TV news consisted of coverage of violent events.

"Most local TV newscasts have abandoned the public interest in the race for ratings," Klite said at the time.

The analysis, which included 102 stations in 52 markets (including Colorado Springs) also found:

The news is out of balance on many stations, with an over-emphasis on crime and disaster coverage.

Important issues, like education, the environment, poverty, arts, science, labor, growth, transportation and governance, are neglected in newscasts.

Women and minorities are under-represented as anchors and sources on programs.

Entertainment tactics have invaded the news.

Some stations broadcast more commercials than actual news.

"Thanks to Paul the organization is widely known and has a lot of credibility," said Jason Salzman, who along with Klite co-founded Rocky Mountain Media Watch.

A memorial is being scheduled for later this month. Any donations to the nonprofit in Klite's memory should be sent to RMMW, P.O. Box 18858, Denver, CO 80218.

-- degette@csindy.com


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