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

Ron Borges and that disclaimer

After the Boston Globe emerged in the late 1990s from its travails over ethically challenged columnists Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith, the editors began taking a number of steps to restore the paper’s credibility. One was the disclaimer placed at the bottom of the Sunday sports “notes” columns: “[M]aterial from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.”

Now it looks like that disclaimer is going to be put to the test. A Web site called Cold, Hard Football Facts charges that Globe football writer Ron Borges “apparently stole great stretches of his column from a previously published report” in the Tacoma News Tribune. Well, it depends on the meaning of “stole,” doesn’t it? The site acknowledges the disclaimer, but then adds that “even a 90-pound weakling of a newspaper copy boy has enough sense to change some of the words.”

The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has all the details and promises to post responses from Borges and Globe editor Marty Baron as soon as he gets them.

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  1. Anonymous

    Looks suspicious to me. The Globe should fire him.

  2. Anonymous

    It’s the Glob! Borges routinely demonstrates his ignorance of football on Four with Felger!Now – it there were some TENNIS or LACROSSE matches to cover, perhaps he’d know what he’s doing.But for BBFH (Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey) – well, they may have to crib a little…

  3. adamg

    Editor & Publisher quotes Joe Sullivan as saying the paper’s looking into the issue.

  4. mike_b1

    How I love the Internet!Dan, what you didn’t indicate in your reporting was where you stand on this. In your opinion, did Borges plagiarize the work? And if so, what action should the Globe take?

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I wouldn’t call it plagiarism, because the disclaimer makes it clear that there’s a lot of unoriginal material in the column. However, it’s poor practice to copy that closely. Without the disclaimer, yes, it’s plagiarism, plain and simple.I’m not going to run around dictating to the Globe what if any punishment it ought to hand out. What do I look like, Bob of Blue Mass Group?

  6. Anonymous

    Does this disclaimer allow you to take words, directly, from someone else, without attributing them. Does the Globe pay the Tacoma guy? I mean, using his reporting is one thing. But if a someone did this at The Northeastern News, they would be suspended. I can’t imagine how lifting an entire paragraph is not plagarism, under any circumstances. If he gets a pass, this will be a bad example for young journalists, and students everywhere.

  7. Anonymous

    That is a dangerous precedent to set. The disclaimer undermines everything that a respected news source should represent. The Globe took a few steps back…again. Next time just reprint an entire article and say that the article may or may not have been reproduced from someone that actually did their job.I guess being a writer for the Globe should be classified as “good work if you can get it.”

  8. mike_b1

    Dan, as clarification, I wasn’t asking you to tell the Globe what to do. As a media observer, I thought you would see fit to comment on what the appropriate response would be. But I know, I know: You have to eat in this town.Personally, if someone on my staff did what Borges did, they’d be out on their ass, no second chances. Anon 8:35 is right: Passing off someone else’s work as your own is plagiarism, regardless of whether your employer attaches a disclaimer to it. But I think all we needed to know about the Globe’s position on ethics starts and ends with their utter emasculation of their ombudsman position. The bottom line is the bottom line.

  9. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, I was listening to D&C this morning on the way to work, hoping for some good Pats talk after a successful weekend on the free agent market. Instead, heard John Dennis reading the paragraph from the Tacoma source, and then Gerry Callahan reading the corresponding paragraph from Borges’ notes. This went on for several paragraphs! When I got to work, was able to look side by side at the two raw columns to see the comparison, which was worse than portrayed on CHFB or WEEI. No excuses (and I think the Globe needs to fire out a royalty check to the Tacoma newspaper). I don’t care what that disclaimer said, this goes just a tad over the line, to say the least. I’m assuming that the Tacoma source isn’t exactly flattered by this action (nor would I think you would be if I started pulling your content off via Control-C with some caveat citing anonymous sources). What exactly is in the water on Morrissey Blvd?Back in my innocent days at Middlebury College way pre Internet, we had a flat out honor code rule: you plagiarize, you’re out. If Borges wants to run his notes column as a blog, at least as you pointed out you quote a bit of the related article and then post a link to the direct source (preferably in indents on the quote so nobody thinks it is actually your intellectual capital).BTW, happy to see that my alma mater barred the use of Wikipedia as a direct source. Maybe an idea whose time has come?

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Mike B1: I don’t think a journalist, even an opinion journalist, ought to go around saying what specific action ought to be taken with regard to a particular transgression, especially when the facts aren’t entirely clear.What I was looking for was an explanation as to exactly what the disclaimer means. Joe Sullivan and Marty Baron gave their answer. And in light of that, I thought two months was … well, OK, if a little on the light side. I do think firing would be inappropriate — again, only because of that ridiculous disclaimer.

  11. Anonymous

    Dan, I hope you teach your students one of the biggest truths of the sports journalism business: That “stars” get off lightly, time after time. If this had been a high school sports reporter or an agate clerk, he or she would have been fired on the spot. Albom invents scenes out of thin air in his leads? Little reprecussion. Borges cuts and pastes other people’s work? Go sit in time-out, then come back and be a star again.

  12. Lee

    Hi all, reading your thoughts on Mr. Borges’ obvious lack of: a)judgement; b)creativity; c)independent thought; d journalistic style, got me thinking about whatever happened to the old axiom “innocent until proven uilty”. Clearly, it appears that Mr. Borges did engage in plagarism (disclaimer not withstanding), it will be interesting to read his reply and whether or not he admits to this breach of journalistic protocol (sorry, plain grammar school ethics)or if he attempts to spin it. Ron doesn’t have to like Bill, but perhaps his maniacal pursuit of all things anti-Bill have caused him to finally show up for work a few keystrokes off.

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