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

It’s time for Poynter to apologize to Romenesko

Jim Romenesko, the original media blogger (and still the best), is cutting back, although he wants us all to know that he’s not retiring.

Benjamin Mullin of Poynter interviews Romenesko and almost but not quite acknowledges that Poynter officials did Jim wrong when they flung bogus plagiarism accusations against him as he was leaving in 2011. As I wrote then for The Huffington Post:

It was ridiculous to accuse of him plagiarism or something like it because he didn’t claim that anything he was posting was his original work. And he always linked to what he was excerpting — that was the whole idea. I consider him to be among the most ethical and transparent of journalists.

It’s time for an apology.

More: Here are some reactions from Poynter’s faculty that were posted at the time of Romenesko’s departure. Some didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong. Some thought his attribution practices were sloppy, though they didn’t think it quite amounted to plagiarism — though that’s certainly how it was framed in public.

The larger issue, it seems to me, was that Poynter benefitted from hosting Romenesko’s blog for 12 years without questioning his aggregation practices, and then overreacted to a Columbia Journalism Review inquiry as he was heading for the exit.

That said, Romenesko and Poynter remain must-reads for those of us who follow journalism and media issues.

Correction: The spelling of Mullin’s name has now been fixed.

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  1. He copied passages while he worked for an alleged media watchdog site. He was wrong, and Poynter was way wrong — for not catching it far sooner.

    There is no debate — he copied passages. End of story. The people who can’t accept this are simply wrong and delusional and perhaps illiterate.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Robert: He copied passages, but he did not pass them off as his own work.

      • Not sure how much that matters. Could he have rewritten them? Yes. Did he? In many cases, no. Did he benefit from copying them? Yes, with site traffic. Did he reduce traffic to the original sites, with the journalists that actually did the calling, reporting, writing, and editing? Yes. Somehow those facts keep getting lost, likely because today’s standards are not high.

        Bottom line: He copied passages while working at an alleged media watchdog site. There is nothing good or right about that.

        If Poynter should apologize, it’s to the sources that passages were copied from.

  2. Bob Kelleter

    He posted an excerpt from the complete story, to which he linked. If that’s plagiarism, he certainly did a poor job of hiding it. It was so obviously NOT taking credit for someone else’s work, but was actually drawing attention and credit TO someone else’s reporting. Incidentally, when Romenesko left Poynter, so did I. I don’t recall how he was replaced, but at the time I thought CJR and Poynter both looked foolish.

    • I would agree that Poynter looked foolish — for not doing anything for so long.

      As far as “posting excerpts” — they were never indicated in any way — quotes, indentation, italics, etc. I doubt there is any style book or guide book anywhere that says writers can simply take passages, word for word, and call them “excerpts.” Just having a hyperlink somewhere in the text is not really a defense — links go bad or die all the time.

      The fact this is even being debated — years later — shows how much journalism has crumbled.

      He copied passages, and there is no debate. He did it. Any other writer caught doing that routinely over a course of years would have been fired and discredited for life.

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