Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rocky disappearing story update: once more down the memory hole

Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple replied by e-mail yesterday to Drunkablog's questions about the disappearance of a story from the Rocky website last week. Before getting to Temple's version of The Case of the Missing AP Story, though, it might be helpful to retell an earlier, more frightening tale: The Case of the Disappearing Rocky Editorial That Plagiarized Another Editorial (better title under construction).

Back on July 16 the News posted an editorial by deputy editorial page editor Thom Beal. As was almost immediately noticed by a commenter on the blog RockyWatch, the editorial plagiarized from a piece on the Daily Howler website.

But it was only days later, after other blogs began covering the story, that Temple posted a half-hearted apology that acknowledged only "inappropriately duplicated wording" in the editorial. This weasel wordage was designed to deflect calls (especially vigorous from the blogger Stygius) for an investigation into whether Beal had plagiarized before (which, plagiarists being plagiarists, he likely had). According to Westword (no permalink; scroll to second item), Temple also said he hoped that by avoiding the "p-word" he might avoid legal problems down the road.

Trying to sneak one by

More subtly, in his apology Temple failed to link to Beal's editorial so readers could see the "inappropriate duplication" for themselves. In fact, by then the editorial was inaccessible to online Rocky readers. The Drunkablog, inquiring about this in comments on Temple's blog, received the following tortured explanation:

Actually, the reason I didn't link to the editorial is I couldn't find it on our site. I had to ask our librarian for help. He found it easily. Editorials expire from our Web site after two months. Here's the link to the editorial, which has been available on our site ever since it was published.
Totally weird. And, even more oddly, a couple of days later Temple posted yet another link to the editorial on his blog. From none to two; smells like guilty conscience. In any case, there the matter rested.

Another one bites the dust

Then last week the Rocky ran an Associated Press story on CU's investigation of Ward Churchill that quoted an "expert on academic freedom" from the American Association of University Professors. The Drunkablog, adding his mite to the story, took a closer look at the AAUP and its "general secretary" Roger Bowen, quoting the AP piece but adding relevant info it hadn't included.

Imagine the Drunkablog's surprise then, when, hitting his link to the AP story on the Rocky's website soon thereafter, he found--nothing. Churchill-centric blogger Pirate Ballerina also e-mailed that he'd searched for the story on the Rocky site and come up empty.

Wearily then the Drunkablog found himself once again asking Temple where a piece published on the Rocky site had gotten off to. Yesterday he e-mailed this reply:

This was an update story that we ran on Tuesday. It did come from AP. We expire site update stories at midnight. Our reason is that we are usually publishing a Rocky version that will appear the following day. We don't keep the original because we want the RMN story to be the story of record.

Hope this helps.

A slight fisk

Oh, your reply helps, John. Yes.

Temple: We expire site update stories at midnight.

Have you ever told your readers this, John? Unless I'm mistaken all I've heard of such a policy is in yesterday's e-mail:

Our reason is that we are usually publishing a Rocky version that will appear the following day. We don't keep the original because we want the RMN story to be the story of record.

Noble ambition, to write the "story of record," ain't it? But still, shouldn't we be able to compare the Rocky's story of record with, in this instance, the original AP version, if only to chuckle at how brilliantly better the Rocky's effort is?

But that's another problem, John: even though you "usually" do, in this instance you didn't publish a "Rocky version" or "story of record" the following day, or ever. Instead you left your readers without any story at all. Tough to be a paper of record like that.

So it just seems like common sense that the Rocky should archive every story on its website (even if, as you might point out, any particular story might be available elsewhere).

Archive everything, John. That's what papers of record (should) do.

Update: People will sock me if I don't ask: Mr. Temple, is the Rocky vetting, or going to vet, all of Thom Beal's work for plagiarism? If not, why not? If so, when will its findings be published?

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