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.