There but for the grace of God go I
Stop the Presses column by Chris Graham
Normally you hear about plagiarism and reporter-misconduct cases in big cities.
I can’t ever remember hearing about one here in the Shenandoah Valley – so I did at least one doubletake when I saw the news earlier this week that the News Leader in Staunton was looking into stories written by sportswriter Blair Parker after it was revealed that she had plagiarized from several sources in a story that appeared in the paper last week.
Turns out from the investigation that there were other stories in which Parker had plagiarized – and at least four that the paper said she had fabricated.
Parker was terminated on Tuesday, according to Leader managing editor David Fritz in an item published in the paper today.
Parker had been a hot topic in the local newspaper set dating back to hiring last year. She was given a blog on the Leader’s website that seemed to get more play than that of longtime sports editor Hubert Grim III (I suggest that because it was displayed a bit higher on the Leader blog page than Grim’s, to my recollection); and whatever the play, it didn’t seem that she had earned it from any notion that she possessed a precocious talent.
Her writing appeared to lack a grounding in the basics of the world of sports – which would seem to be a detriment for a person employed to be a sportswriter.
I don’t think anybody that ever complained to me about her would have thought that fabrications and plagiarism would have been issues with her – to put it bluntly, her writing didn’t convey the notion that she was even inquisitive enough to look elsewhere for a source that could be borrowed from or bright enough to think to make something up to put into print.
That is being harsh, I know – but this is a tough business, journalism, and I had wondered to myself for some time how it was that Ms. Parker had been able to hang on to her job given how obvious it was that she was struggling so mightily at it.
I could speculate that it was this pressure that led her to engage in practices that she had to know were going to catch up to her eventually – but I won’t.
I do want to say that I believe that credit is due to the Leader for going public with what it discovered in its review of Parker’s work. I can imagine that those are tough words to have to put to paper given how hard we all work in the news business on the basics of just getting it right.
It goes without saying that news of these kinds of things hits all of us in this business squarely in the mouth – because as much as you want as an editor to trust that your writers are adhering to standards of journalism ethics each and every minute of each and every day, and you put into place safeguards to assure that nothing untoward slips through the cracks, these kinds of things can happen from time to time.
And there, we editors say when we hear about these things happening elsewhere, but for the grace of God go I.
Chris Graham is the author of Stop the Presses: A Collection of Columns. More information on the book is available at www.authorchrisgraham.com.