Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dave Pratt loses column over plagiarism

Photo: Dave Pratt co-hosting his radio show (photo from the TEAM 1040 website).

This dropped in from out of the blue. The Vancouver Province has terminated its regular column from TEAM 1040 AM broadcaster Dave Pratt after he plagiarized a line from a 2000 Sports Illustrated piece by famed writer Rick Reilly (now of ESPN) on U.S. college basketball coach and broadcaster Al McGuire and used it to refer to Bob Cole in a piece published yesterday. For those of you unfamiliar with Pratt, he's one of the most prominent Vancouver sports media personalities: he co-hosts the TEAM's afternoon drive show with Don Taylor of Sportsnet, and an hour of their show is usually televised on Sportsnet Pacific each day (sort of the West Coast version of Prime Time Sports, but without the business focus).

Here's the original:

"They say he was born 72 years ago last Thursday, but don't believe it. McGuire dropped straight out of Guys and Dolls with a martini in one hand and a basketball in the other."

And Pratt's version:

"Cole was born 75 years ago, but it's more likely he dropped straight out of Guys and Dolls with a martini in one hand and a puck in the other."

It sounds like the newspaper is taking this seriously, which is good to see. "Plagiarism is an affront to the ethical standards of this newspaper," said Province Editor in Chief Wayne Moriarty. "Our readers have to know that the writing in The Province is either original or attributed to the original source. I personally liked David's work, but as a result of this information we can no longer publish his column."

In Pratt's favour, at least he admitted his mistake rather than trying to cover it up.

"I did it, no question," said Pratt. "It was a mistake. In our [radio] business, lines get used back and forth all the time. That particular line is a pretty famous line and I should have credited Reilly with it and I didn't. It was a stupid mistake and something I regret and I'll make damn sure I'll never do it again.

"I'm looking for stuff from everywhere," added Pratt. "We recycle everything. The sheer amount of volume we produce forces you to constantly be looking for different people's ideas."

This raises some interesting issues in my mind. First off, it shows how easy it can be to fall into plagiarism. Any writer worth his salt is constantly reading pieces by others in the field. Over time, those lines can sink into your head and it's quite possible to lose track of where they came from, leading a writer to think he created them himself. It doesn't sound like that's what happened to Pratt, as he admitted intentionally using Reilly's line without credit, but this should serve as a warning to all writers to be absolutely careful that what you present as your own work actually is that.

The second issue this raises is the multiplatform nature of media these days. Pratt used that as part of his defence, and in fairness to him, I think he might have a bit of a point. The various schools of journalism are quite different from each other, and often use different techniques and standards. Now, he certainly still should have credited the line if he used it on the air, and I think most radio stations would agree with that. Lines are often recycled, but credit should always be given whenever possible (and if you can't find who originally said it, it's better in my mind to not use it. If it's a great line but you can't find the origin, I'd still make an effort to distinguish it from your original material).

I'm not sure if he gets caught making that comment on the air, though. He might still have been tripped up, as Reilly is a very famous writer who many people are familiar with (and thanks to the fabulous SI Vault, it's easy to access his old stuff now), but it's harder to compare quotations word-for-word (necessary to establish plagiarism) when they're spoken over the air instead of presented online, where you can easily just put the two columns side by side and examine the similarities.

I think this provides another warning sign for the numerous sports media personalities who appear on multiple platforms these days: make sure you know how the medium works before you jump in head over heels. Writing a story is not the same as writing a column, and they're both very different from appearing on radio or TV. They each take a different skill set and a different approach, in my mind at least. What works over the airwaves doesn't always translate into television or writing. Some people certainly have the tools and the ability to do it all, but they should still take the time to learn about each individual medium before they jump into it. Also, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to try and focus on excelling in one specific medium instead of cross-promoting yourself extensively.

- Vancouver Province story on Pratt's dismissal by Jim Jamieson
- Reilly's original piece.
- Dave Pratt's blog where he publishes his "rants": Warning, excessive capitalization! The offending piece isn't up there, though.
- Update: Wow, a very harsh (but funny) take from the Kurtenblog guys.


  1. Anonymous3:17 PM

    You give Pratt way too much credit. His excuses were hollow and rumour has it this wasn't a one-time episode.

  2. For someone who is familiar with Pratt, you are way too generous. The only thing missing is that he should've been fired from the TEAM so we don't have to listen to him anymore.

  3. Anonymous10:26 PM

    On his radio show, Pratt has an annoying habit of saying "trust me" whenever he is on the defensive and does not have the facts to support his point of view. Trust him??? Are you crazy???

  4. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Pratt was kicked out of Toronto and it's just a matter of time before Vancouver does the same. He is one of the main reasons why Vancouver sports journalism is so bad.

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