Thursday, June 05, 2008

New developments on Pratt

(Dave Pratt conducting his radio show: photo from the TEAM 1040 website).

A few new things in the Dave Pratt case, which continues to get worse and worse. A quick recap: Pratt, a prominent Vancouver sports personality who wrote for the Vancouver Province and currently still hosts a drive-time radio show on the TEAM 1040 which is partially simulcast on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, lost his job Wednesday after a reader e-mailed the newspaper to let them know that Pratt basically cut and pasted an entire 2000 piece in Sports Illustrated by Rick Reilly. You can find my original post on the case here and the second one here.

Now, the new developments. First, in a CBC story earlier today, Pratt described the plagiarism as a "minor gaffe". "It was a Saturday and I wanted to get out of [the office] before noon," he told CBC over the phone.

That is absolutely inexcusable. If he's serious about apologizing, why does he call it a "minor gaffe"? That quote looks even more ridiculous when it's juxtaposed with what Province editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty told CBC earlier in the story.

"Within ethical standards of the newspaper, plagiarism, short of fabricating information, would be considered the most egregious of sins or transgressions a journalist can commit," Moriarty said.

I agree with Moriarty far more than Pratt here. In an age where many people are skeptical about the credibility of the media, Pratt denigrates all journalists by association, first, by plagiarizing and second, by refusing to recognize the seriousness of his offence. The CBC piece does a good job of showing how serious this offence is, though: it reveals that there's at least three distinct passages copied almost word-for-word (go here for the breakdown), while the Province story only specifically mentioned one.

The second problem with Pratt's comments in the Province piece, the CBC story and the new story by the Globe's William Houston is he seeks to throw his entire wing of the media under the bus by saying plagiarism isn't considered a problem in radio. "We recycle everything. The sheer amount of volume we produce forces you to constantly be looking for different people's ideas," he said in the Province piece.

Look, I know that rules and practices are very different in the different forms of media, but don't insult my intelligence. Elementary school kids know that you can't steal someone else's work and present it as your own, and the vast majority of journalists know this as well, whether their work appears in print, on radio or TV, or on the web. Any attempt to blame this on the media form you work in not only hurts your own credibility, but slanders every other journalist in that medium by association. This is why people like Buzz Bissinger hate blogs: can you imagine what would happen if some blogger said that it was okay to plagiarize on the Internet? Plagiarism is a terrible sin in any form of media, so don't try and pretend that it's just your medium that made you do this: that just hurts everyone else trying to make a living in that medium, most of whom don't deserve that slander.

Update, 12:30 A.M., Saturday, June 7: This story is finally really starting to get out. Dan Russell, the host of the great radio program Sports Talk on CKNW, another local radio station, contacted me out of the blue Thursday about my posts on the Pratt situation, and we had a great chat about the possible implications of this. Dan made some very good points on the air Thursday night about how Pratt's actions and comments not only hurt himself, but also damage the reputation of all journalists, especially those who work in radio. Anyway, I highly recommend it. You can access the show through the CKNW Audio Vault, which allows you to listen to any of their shows by hour. The Sports Talk program runs from 9 until 12 most nights: the portion referencing Pratt and my postings starts shortly after 10:00.

Other related pieces:
- Michael David Smith has an interesting take on this over at the FanHouse. He thinks taking others' words without attribution should be treated the same in any medium, but he suggests that it may be more prevalent in radio. Key quote: "I don't see any ethical distinction between taking someone else's words on the radio and taking someone else's words in print, but Pratt seems to, even as he acknowledges his mistake."

- Bill Stovin, who has considerable experience in print media, radio and television, has a good piece on this at Media Melon. He also seems annoyed by how Pratt threw the rest of the radio profession under the bus. Key quote: "While contrite, Pratt clearly doesn’t grasp the seriousness of what he did, dismissing his conduct as a minor gaffe, 'There’s clearly a higher standard in print and I’m not a print guy.' OUCH!!!!"

- Jez Golbez has an interesting take over at Hockey Rants. Key quote: "You just know that in today's Internet age, such plagiarism, especially of a fairly well-known quote, is going to be caught by somebody. As a blogger and *cough*writer*cough*, I know better and liberally utilize quoting and block quoting in my post. How hard would it have been for Pratt to add a simple "As Rick Reilly might say" before his line? That would acknowledge the source, and he'd still have a job."

- Jason Cohen has a nice post on this at Can't Stop The Bleeding (partway down, after his discussion of the Hockey Night in Canada theme controversy). One of his main points is that many mainstream media outlets tend to harp on blogs for plagiarism and journalistic deficiencies, but you don't see most of them flying in to write about this. Key quote: "Pratt’s been fired from the paper, but not from his sports talk show on a local AM station. One of these days I’m sure some MSM columnist or highly esteemed author will take talk-radio to task for insufficient journalistic standards, right?"

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