Stéphane Malhomme, the recent Concordia journalism graduate who was caught plagiarizing a Rue Frontenac piece for the website of TVA’s Argent and subsequently fired, has broken his earlier silence with a letter to Rue Frontenac, among others.
He confirms that he was handed a printout of the Rue Frontenac piece by his employer and told to use it as background – with only 45 minutes left in his shift. (It’s not clear if he was also told not to mention Rue Frontenac as a source.) He says he believed what he was doing was okay at the time, and that his boss approved the text, presumably aware of the blatant plagiarism or even encouraging it.
That said, he says he takes responsibility for what he did and isn’t trying to deflect blame, just to set the record straight.
Malhomme trots out the usual excuses for plagiarism:
- I didn’t think what I did was wrong
- I didn’t have enough time
- I was overworked
- I don’t do this normally
- This is a problem with the system, not just me
His text has been described as “courageous” by commenters, and “honest” by Jean-François Lisée. I don’t know if it’s either of those things. It’s incredibly self-serving, and Malhomme has nothing to lose now that he’s been branded a plagiarist and he’s out of a job. His disclaimer that he takes responsibility for his actions seems to be contradicted by all the other things he says.
But Malhomme is right that this is also a problem with the system. The fact that he was handed a printout from Rue Frontenac in the first place, the fact that news media are discouraged from citing one another (and that Quebecor media are seemingly forbidden from referencing Rue Frontenac but more than willing to steal their scoops), the fact that young journalists are expected to throw together a story on deadline with few resources, the fact that such work isn’t checked for things like this before being published. It shouldn’t be too surprising that an issue of plagiarism will eventually surface in such an environment.
But under that pressure, Malhomme resorted to using another person’s words and putting his name on it, something he knew – or should have known – was wrong.
It’s a decision he made as part of a 45-minute assignment that he’ll have to live with for a long, long time.
UPDATE: Trente interviews an anonymous Quebecor employee who wasn’t a witness to what happened but still feels free to offer opinions that shed a negative light on his or her employer. The interviewee suggests with no apparent evidence that if the victim was any news organization other than Rue Frontenac, there would not have been such a fallout.
UPDATE (Dec. 20): The Conseil de Presse has ruled on this matter, blaming QMI, the Journal de Montréal and Argent, which all published the piece. None of those organizations cooperated with the council, and Malhomme has confessed, making the decision kind of pointless.
It was either that or get fired. Least the way he took he had a chance.
In a socialist utopia he wouldn’t have to worry about this, you know. Or in say, a unionized position.
The ADVANTAGE of a unionized position would be that the guy could SAFELY denounce the action and tell his boss to shove it.
The fact is that if you work at your employer’s whim, you pretty much have to do whatever they say, no matter what.
Obviously, most people will balk at anything blatantly illegal but students get handed all kinds of crap that they should legally refuse to do but can’t because they’ll lose their job.
This is EXACTLY the kind of crap unions were created to counter: the unequal balance of power between employer and temp-employee.
Lord knows I’m not a fan of unions, especially the PQ-can-do-no-wrong Quebec ones but, sometimes, they do serve a purpose.
Of course, it should be noted that TVA is a union shop. Malhomme simply didn’t have job security because he was a temporary worker.
Well, he screwed his carreer, and that’s it.
So what? Plenty of people have screwed their careers before and not entirely due to fault of their own. Maybe his boss didn’t like his hairdo or whatnot and decided to get rid of him? Who knows.
He should get over it, and find another job, like the countless number of people who lost their jobs before. Losing one’s job is a normal part of the live-work-debt-die routine everyone is trapped into.
A sad commentary on our society, most of us, when faced with a choice between doing something wrong and losing our job would do whatever morally reprehensible thing was demanded of us.
Also sad that merely being employed by someone essentially makes you their slave, with the sword of damocles of dismissal hanging over your head.
Sure, if you’re not treated right you could take it to the régie des normes de travail, but by then you’re already fired, already struggling to pay your bills, and what to do in cases where it’s your word against your employers?
Basically, we are screwed coming and going because employers have all the power in the employer/employee relationship. Little things like journalistic integrity fall by the wayside because whatever industry you’re in, it’s all about the money, and even reporters, teachers, doctors, and other professions that truly serve humanity fall prey to lapses in ethics when they think their jobs are threatened, their retirement’s in danger… whatever.
Malhomme’s behaviour is not surprising. It is built into the system. We are animals and we act with self-preservation in mind. Most of the people crapping on what he did would most likely have done exactly the same thing. I would have.