Posted in Media

Gazette kills soccer column over plagiarism charge

Monday’s Gazette includes a note to readers saying that it will no longer be carrying a weekly soccer column written by Paul Carbray.

The reason? Repeated instances of plagiarism, the paper concluded:

It was recently brought to our attention that a column which was submitted for publication used material from another source without attribution. A check of columns we published over the previous two months turned up two other cases where, again, extended passages were taken from articles and blogs that had been published online by other media outlets. The passages were repeated in the Gazette columns with very minor changes and no attribution.

Carbray, a former copy editor on the sports desk (one I worked with for a couple of years while he was there), wrote the weekly column and an accompanying notes package on the subject of European soccer for the past 15 years.

He told OpenFile Montreal that he had no excuse:

“I am well aware that plagiarism is a journalistic mortal sin,” Carbray said via email. “In 15 years of doing a column, my standards slipped on these occasions and I regret that extremely. Ultimately, there is no excuse. The fault was of method mostly, not intention. This is not how I envisioned ending 40 years in journalism.”

Local corrections specialist Craig Silverman writes about this case for Poynter, and suggests a more thorough investigation is needed.

The last time something like this happened was in 2006, when The Gazette found that language columnist Howard Richler had lifted material from reference sources without attributing it. His column was terminated and he hasn’t written for the paper since, though he has written for other publications including the National Post.

I haven’t conducted my own investigation into the accusation against Carbray, and due to the inherent conflict I won’t analyze this specific case significantly.

But this kind of thing is a constant worry at the back of any journalist’s mind, and if it isn’t it should be. The mistake can seem so minor at times – just forgetting to attribute a quote or a turn of phrase or a piece of information. The intentions can be honourable – not all cases are like a high school kid taking a paper written by someone else and putting his name on it. It could just be a question of rushing through a story on deadline and being lazy about a minor but still fundamental point.

But the consequences can be devastating. Being branded a plagiarist can end a journalist’s career.

A memo was sent to The Gazette’s newsroom staff reminding them of the seriousness of plagiarism and the need to attribute. Hopefully we can prevent such a thing happening again.

16 thoughts on “Gazette kills soccer column over plagiarism charge

  1. Derek Cassoff

    Who am I to judge whether the punishment fits the crime, but one does have to wonder whether there is a double standard at the Gazette. I remember a few years ago Janet Bagnall being caught red-handed for having lifted several paragraphs from a NY Times article, with no attribution, and I believe she received a slap on the wrist.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Who am I to judge whether the punishment fits the crime, but one does have to wonder whether there is a double standard at the Gazette. I remember a few years ago Janet Bagnall being caught red-handed for having lifted several paragraphs from a NY Times article, with no attribution, and I believe she received a slap on the wrist.

      The Bagnall case, which happened in 2005, did indeed involve six paragraphs being copied from a Nicholas Kristof column in the Times.

      She explained it this way:

      I had printed out Kristof’s column in the same text type as The Gazette’s, along with other information, including notes I had made several weeks earlier based on the original source both Kristof and I consulted, a June 2005 progress report on Portland’s action plan.

      Writing my column, I thought I was transcribing my own notes, when in fact I transcribed his fact summary and quote.

      The Gazette suspended her column for four weeks (it appeared about twice a week at the time). It explained its decision thusly:

      While plagiarism is serious, every case is different and must be handled according to the individual circumstances. In this case, it involves a journalist with a long and previously unblemished professional record.

      Reply
  2. MTLskyline

    I always wondered why the Gazette even had its own columnist for European soccer. Surely it would be easier just to get that info from a wire service or something…

    Does the Gazette even have its own writers for American football, baseball and basketball?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Does the Gazette even have its own writers for American football, baseball and basketball?

      No. It does have weekly picks during the NFL season from Ian Macdonald and it carries a Postmedia column from Bruce Arthur on the NFL. Its last baseball writer was Stephanie Myles, who left the beat not long after the Expos left town. Coverage of baseball and basketball in the paper is very light these days.

      Reply
  3. Ian McKenzie

    I see that the Gazette sends Stephanie Myles to Europe and Australia when it could easily get that stuff from stringers or the wire. They must pay tens of thousands for stuff that could be gotten for almost nothing. It seems like a waste of resources that the paper could be using on local news.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I see that the Gazette sends Stephanie Myles to Europe and Australia when it could easily get that stuff from stringers or the wire.

      Wire stories won’t focus on Canadians competing at these competitions, and there aren’t too many people in Australia, London or Paris who have enough knowledge of Canada’s tennis scene to be able to do a good job of it.

      They must pay tens of thousands for stuff that could be gotten for almost nothing. It seems like a waste of resources that the paper could be using on local news.

      I don’t know exactly what the paper’s budget is for these things. She only goes to the four Grand Slam tournaments, and has found ways to do so that cost the paper very little.

      Besides, part of local news is knowing how local athletes are doing on the international stage.

      Reply
    2. Usedtobe

      Similarly, I always wondered why The Gazette finds it necessary to assign three, sometimes four writers to every Canadiens game (ESPECIALLY during this “who-gives-a-crap” season). Must get pretty expensive covering transportation, food and bar tabs, hotels and daily incidentals especially during long road trips, even if onyl two writers travel. I don’t imagine these guys eat at fast food joints, and I’m pretty sure they’re getting a very generous per diem.

      By the way, I always wanted to know: do the journalists fly for free on the plane with the team or does the team charge the paper? Any idea, Steve?

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        Similarly, I always wondered why The Gazette finds it necessary to assign three, sometimes four writers to every Canadiens game (ESPECIALLY during this “who-gives-a-crap” season). Must get pretty expensive covering transportation, food and bar tabs, hotels and daily incidentals especially during long road trips, even if onyl two writers travel.

        The Gazette only sends one person on Canadiens road games: Pat Hickey (though the current road trip is an exception, with Mike Boone going in his place). Everyone else goes to home games only, except maybe during the playoffs.

        And if you think the paper is covering Hickey’s bar tab, you’re insane.

        By the way, I always wanted to know: do the journalists fly for free on the plane with the team or does the team charge the paper? Any idea, Steve?

        Journalists pay their own way. (As an aside, Pat Hickey dislikes flying, and will often drive to away games if possible.)

        Reply
      2. Stephanie Myles

        Journalists don’t fly on the team plane. Haven’t for many years now. Beyond the general principle, the teams didn’t exactly charge the media outlets the cheapest economy-class fares for the privilege.

        Reply
    3. Stephanie Myles

      To Ian,
      as an aside: The tennis stuff runs in pretty much all the other Postmedia papers as well, not just the Gazette – the Vancouver papers, in particular, have interest because of several up-and-coming players from there. I often do extra exclusive material for them as well.
      Other papers will pay for other assignments, which in turn are used by rest of the chain. Sort of how it works in one big happy family.
      Another big reason I go is because of all the online work I do on the tennis blog. I take photos, do video. The amount of material I produce out of those things is kind of obscene.
      And Steve’s right; there’s little on the wire (and some of it is egregiously poorly written) about the Canadians. I also provide lots of material on the up-and-coming Canadian kids who play in the junior event, as with Westmount’s Eugenie Bouchard, who won the junior Wimbledon doubles last summer
      And yes, I do it on the incredibly cheap (I don’t even have a per diem). I don’t think I’ve been to an actual restaurant on a tennis assignment in 5 years. Plus, all the bars are long closed by the time I’m done every night :-)

      Reply
  4. David Pinto

    Meanwhile, Tom Carbray, Paul’s cousin, a super-nice guy who toiled for many years in Creative Services at The Gazette, was laid off a year or so ago, and has, according to my sources, essentially vanished from sight. Apparently, his former co-workers have not heard from him.

    Reply
  5. KK

    So, Mr. Carbray ends his career being called a plagiarist for 3 short sentences in 3 separate stories over a 40 year career that were mistakenly not attributed to the source?

    “While plagiarism is serious, every case is different and must be handled according to the individual circumstances. In this case, it involves a journalist with a long and previously unblemished professional record.”

    Paul Carbray’s career was also previously unblemished so why was he treated differently? Not the way any respected journalist would want to end a long career. Seems like they were unfairly trying to make an example of him.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      So, Mr. Carbray ends his career being called a plagiarist for 3 short sentences in 3 separate stories over a 40 year career that were mistakenly not attributed to the source?

      Did you read the sentences in question? Are they indeed “short”?

      Reply
      1. kk

        I believe it is an unfair way to end a 40 year career and if you talk to many of the people that worked with him over the years they would agree.

        Reply
    2. Steve W

      The Gazette only went back two months, & they found Paul Carbray plagiarize in two other cases. 3 cases in two months(not over his 40 year career as you say), that’s damn serious.

      Reply

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