By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Borges suspended

Globe football writer Ron Borges has been suspended for two months without pay for lifting material without attribution. This, from the Globe’s story, gets to the heart of the matter:

Borges’s column, like other sports ‘notes’ columns in the Globe, contain[s] a line at the bottom, reading, ‘material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.’ But [sports editor Joe] Sullivan said reporters are expected to use the shared notes for background material and not to lift the language directly from one another.

As a condition of his suspension, Borges has to refrain from broadcast appearances, the paper’s editor, Marty Baron, is quoted as saying. Baron also labels Borges’ transgression as “plagiarism.”

The Herald’s Messenger Blog goes with a fuller statement from Baron that also invokes the “P”-word.

I guess the biggest question is whether Borges will accept his punishment or quit the Globe. Borges, like many prominent sportswriters, has several broadcast and writing gigs. But his spot at the Globe is his meal ticket; without that, he wouldn’t be nearly as much in demand. My guess is that he’ll do his time and stick around.

The next step the Globe should take is to reword and clarify that disclaimer. It’s a landmine. I’d be willing to bet that Borges still doesn’t think he did anything wrong. (Don’t misunderstand me: I think he definitely crossed the line.) Here’s a suggestion: Write the “notes” columns like blogs, quoting from other papers directly when appropriate, and linking in the online versions. No disclaimer necessary.

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Ron Borges and that disclaimer


Liar, liar?


  1. o-fish-l

    After a great month uncovering Deval’s extravagances, the Boston Herald scores again as their own Kerry J. Byrne brings down the Globe’s mighty Ron Borges. Granted, Byrne used his website to raise the Borges issue, but Byrne has penned for ther Herald, (at least as a freelancer) for some time.Who ever said the Herald was irrelvant?

  2. mike_b1

    “‘The Globe does not tolerate plagiarism,”’ Baron said in a statement. “Extensive passages written by the Tacoma reporter were used verbatim in the column by Borges, and that is prohibited.”Perhaps. But Borges still has a job, right? Sounds like the Globe does tolerate it. At least in some cases, and for some people.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: You’re not going to catch me saying the Herald is irrelevant. But I will say this: If a Herald writer breaks a big story like this on his personal blog rather than in the Herald, that is not an argument for the Herald’s relevance. Uh, kind of the opposite. You’ll need a different example.

  4. o-fish-l

    Dan, the examples of a vibrant Herald abound. See Deval’s new willingness to pay the difference for the Cadillac and the drapes. I do see your point, that’s why I made it clear that Byrne broke the story on his website. That said, I don’t shrink from my original assertion. Byrne works for the Herald and has brought down a major player at the Globe. Being the refugee scoundrel that I am, let me ask, if an off-duty Boston cop nabs a bad guy in the town of Weymouth, that’s still good news for the BPD, right?

  5. Anonymous

    Whatever.I’ve never heard of Borges, and, if he is a sports columnist, it is highly unlike that I would have read any of his columns. He’ll probably go on to the WEEI “Howie Carr” mega-ditto mega money heaven, and it’s really irrelevant.But I do have to tell you that “plagiarism” is a pretty weak reed to hang someone from.It’s one thing if the Glob was concerned about copyright infringement. But apparently they aren’t. Plagiarism is an academic issue–using other peoples’ works without attribution, not just using other peoples’ issues. In academic papers, the attributees are handled by way of footnotes, but it would get rather annoying to see footnotes in a newspaper. Or things like “as xyz said, ‘tom brady had a wonderful year’.” Borrrrring.If the Glob feels defrauded because one of its columnists has made use of someone else’s texts, instead of formulating the same text himself, why don’t they just say so? That’s the real issue, isn’t it? They’re paying someone a salary to do something (write some text that they can splash onto fish wrapping and birdcage liner) and the person to whom they are paying the salary to is using other persons’ text. Why don’t they just say that’s the issue? That was the real issue with Barnicle, wasn’t it?Quite frankly, I don’t have a problem with them using other peoples’ text. But then again, I’m not selling fish wrapping and birdcage liner.–raj

  6. amusedbutinformedobserver

    Speaking of the Herald, how come the paper never wrote a word about its freelance movie reviewer who was convicted of peddling the advance DVDs he received?

  7. Anonymous

    The Herald must concentrate on the current – Tempest in a Tabloid – the hot air battle between Howie and Finneran. Who could have seen that coming, dueling talk show hosts who occupy AM and PM drive time in the same market? That has to be bad for ratings … right??Ref Borges: I am amazed at how much money is at stake for the sports writers who made their bones in print and now cash the big check to yak it up on cable – free TV and the radio. All this electronic media exposure takes time – time away from the research necessary to bring an accurate, original story to print. No wonder there was a little cut and paste going on … Ron probably had a gig on ESPN radio that would have doubled the weekly take home for 20 minutes of hot air. Something had to give, in this case and who knows how many others, it was integrity.

  8. Anonymous

    Plagiarism these days mystifies me. It’s just so, so, so lazy, and easier than ever to get caught. It might be easy to say that the pressures of the high-profile job and all his extracurricular appearances got to him, but c’mon. It’s the offseason, first of all. He could have made two phonecalls on that item, rewrote it in his own words with maybe another tidbit, sourced it to that other paper, and he would have been all set. In the whole scheme of things, not brain surgery. No excuses. This paves the way for the rise of Mike Reiss, who is, bar none, the best sportswriter right now at the Globe, not to mention his familiarity with blogs, web updates, etc. He’s the real deal, and I guarantee you he’s never had to lift stuff from someone else. I like Dan’s idea–one guy who does that extraordinarily well is Dan Froomkin over at the Washington Post in his “White House Watch” column. Fully sourced, fully quoted, fully linked items with his own tidbits sprinkled throughout.

  9. Anonymous

    Dan,What do you make of the Globe’s revelation that sports writers share their notes before they write their Sunday columns. I’ve been in situations where I’ve shared notes for a missed quote or two, but wholesale, regular sharing of notes seems bound to result in uniform columns, even if they are differently worded. I wonder if this practice goes beyond the sports departments.

  10. Anonymous

    Let’s not forget, two years ago, Worcester Telegram fired sportswriter Ken Powers for lifting passages from other publications, including Sports Illustrated. The Telegram is owned by… the New York Times.It’s abject laziness in a business that can’t tolerate it any more.

  11. Anonymous

    I think people are giving credit where it is not due in this situation. It is a small point, but this plagiarism issue was first raised by Bruce Allen and Boston Sports Media Watch, and then was passed on to Mr. Byrne and I feel we should get the attribution right, especially in light of the seriousness of the charges. Both of these fine sites have been steadfast and withering in their justified criticisms of this disgraced writer for quite some time, and it is good to see that some form of punishment has come to Ron for his slanted and sloppy reporting.

  12. Anonymous

    Dan’s right when he says the disclaimer ought to be tightened up, and I too suspect Borges doesn’t think he erred (which, of course, he did).But to me, the big loser once again is the major daily newspaper (which is on quite a losing streak these last, oh, 30 years). We’ve had another glimpse of the sausage being made – NFL beat writers sharing info – and it ain’t pretty. If your friendly local sportswriter is cribbing a significant portion of his much-looked-forward-to NFL (or NHL, or MLB …) Notes column from others, why bother? Why not dump his salary and instead grab a syndicated Sunday column from somebody like Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King?

  13. Anonymous

    I don’t think Allen’s site was first on this at all. His first mention of the Borges controversy provided a link to Byrne’s story on the matter.

  14. mike_b1

    Dan, where do you stand on the fairly common practice of local papers attaching their own bylines to AP stories? That’s something I see all the time, too; even when the AP story itself is run, with the AP reporter’s byline, elsewhere.

  15. Kevin

    The Herald as relevant?Their political analysts still think Kerry Healey is going to defeat Deval Patrick for the governorship.That’s pretty sad.

  16. Peter Porcupine

    Kevin – why is it sad when Deval’s only successful policy ideas come from Healey’s 50 point plan for Massachusetts?Talk about PLAGARISM!

  17. Anonymous

    Ms. Porcupine, I’ll just remind you that plagiarism is an academic concept, not a political one. The fact that Patrick might have adopted a few of the policies that were espoused by the Healy campaign unless he had poo-pooed the very same policies in his campaign.–raj

  18. Mike from Norwell

    Actually Dan, saw this article this morning on CHFB: out a Washington University journalism undergrad was the root behind the discovery. Might be instructive for your students..

  19. mike_b1

    The Herald’s Jessica Heslam has spotted other instances of plagiarism in Borges’ recent work. the Globe doesn’t call this plagiarism is anyone’s guess. Its editors, in a word, suck.

  20. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I’m not sure what Heslam means when she says the Globe won’t call it plagiarism, since Marty Baron clearly labeled the earlier instance as plagiarism.That said, I’m still not sure you can call it plagiarism when you run a disclaimer that says the material you are about to read is unoriginal. No, you can’t copy, and Borges got what he deserved. But plagiarism? I don’t know.

  21. Lisa Williams

    I think that it may be possible that some writers are plagiarizing without really recognizing what they’re doing. They’ve got a soup of electronic notes, a lifetime of stored up good phrases…and they have no idea where they all came from. Why shouldn’t newspapers give reporters access to something like or, which is used in universities to detect cut-and-paste plagiarism in papers? Some smart person is going to start running newspapers against those sites and find out there is, in fact, a tidal wave of unacknowledged and unrecognized cut -and-paste going on. One more thing: Add links and what Borges did is just a normal blog entry. Attribution, attribution, attribution.

  22. Anonymous

    When will someone do some actual reporting on this story? Unanswered questions so far:What “notes exchange” did Borges subscribe to, with other beat writers?What are the terms of that exchange? Are the writers expected to rewrite the material? Expected as part of the exchange? Or just expected by their papers?Who else is on that exchange?If we look at their work for the past two months, how many identical sentences and paragraphs do we see?Does changing a few words in fact make it not plagiarism? Most academic codes make a point of saying, no, it doesn’t. Is that the rule at newspapers?I’m not excusing Borges. I am suggesting that what he did was quite common, and the entire subject should be aired out — with some actual reporting in addition to the bloggery.

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