Saturday, October 30, 2010

The case of the missing attribution*

*This week, for the first time since its inception in August 2006, Stet was not published in Business Standard's weekend edition (October 30, 2010) . You'll find the likely reason for that in the second-last paragraph of the spiked column, reproduced below.

Update November 2, 2010: Business Standard's view that the post below was too dated to run is utterly unpersuasive, and I'm afraid I don't believe it. They also say that since this post was put up on the blog, along with comments about BS, the question of carrying it in the paper does not arise. We shall have to agree to disagree on this whole thing, and I will write a post about that in a few days; but meanwhile, I have terminated my arrangement with them with immediate effect. As of this week, Stet will no longer appear in Business Standard.




Given my own recent battle with the effects of long-haul travel, I have great sympathy for Aroon Purie. Jet lag is the worst. Did you know that sleep deprivation can give you Type II diabetes, heart disease, and plagiarism? It’s a real tiger-nado of a bummer.

Aw, I’m being unfair. It wasn’t Aroon Purie himself who copy-pasted large bits of Grady Hendrix’s Slate article on Rajnikanth into the ‘Letter from the Editor’ in India Today’s infamous southern issue on Rajnikanth. It’s complicated. Somebody sent somebody something and somebody got confused and, well, oops.

Except that it was Aroon Purie: his name is right there at the end of the letter. Allegedly he rarely writes his own editor’s letter—it is generally either drafted or entirely written by someone else, and he makes changes ranging from the minor to the major. The problem is that, no matter who put those words together, the buck stops with the name at the end of the piece. You would think that an editor might therefore either stick to writing his own pieces or care about his credibility enough to check what he’s putting his name to. If he doesn’t, it’s his mistake.

It is therefore ungracious for him to try to publicly pass-the-buck-without-passing-the-buck. If he has seen fit to be credited for lots of editorial letters that don’t ever mention “inputs from Delhi”, he shouldn’t suddenly mention them to explain this one—which, unfortunately, is the one he’s likely to be remembered for.

His weaselly apology tried a breezy, jokey style (“Jet lag is clearly injurious to the health of journalism”) to lay out an excuse that effectively hollowed out the mea culpa. It would have been more worthy of respect if he had said “Dear readers, I have unfortunately lifted half my letter from the editor from Slate magazine, and I’m sorry, and it will never happen again.” If he were truly interested in integrity, he would add, “Also, I’ve been outsourcing my letter from the Editor—what kind of Editor does that?—and that will never happen again either.” As a journalist friend of mine put it, those weekly letters are ghostwritten as if they’re speeches from a CEO, not letters from the Editor.

The total lack of surprise or shock about all this in the journalist community is the best indicator that Indian media is in crisis as far as integrity is concerned. Amongst other crimes such as those listed in the Press Council of India report which nobody in the media wants to talk about, is rampant plagiarism. Nobody in the media wants to talk about that either. It’s not as if ours is the only media in the world with big problems. But when ours is confronted with its own scandals, you can hear the clang of a fraternity closing ranks, followed by the weird sound of thousands of furious back-scratchings, followed by the thunderous silence of stones not being thrown in glass houses.

Everyone is human, so screwups are going to happen. Nobody is infallible, nor is anyone expected to be infallible. There are genuine cases of faulty memory and communication gaps and plain sloppiness. Unequivocal apologies can and should be made. But we’re at the point where it has become so commonplace to plagiarise in small and big ways that to many journalists it’s no big deal, and that’s the point at which we’re in trouble. Getting caught is not embarrassing enough yet—the media still mostly chooses to tiptoe around the doo-doo on the carpet, trying to be polite to whoever put it there. When we become a profession that respects itself enough to hang plagiarists out to dry, we will be a profession we can be proud of.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

If a plagiarist had sex with a coward and then their plagio-coward baby got married to a shill, their offspring would be Business Standard.

Rohanv said...

The spiking of this column would be ironic if it weren't so sad. And if plagiarism is so easily accepted here, then *shudder* fabrication can't be far behind, eh?

Would a Jayson Blair really be an outcast to the industry here?

Anonymous said...

Jayson Blair would have been given a raise and tasked with providing "inputs" to his editor.

Salil said...

A Jayson Blair-type fabrication had indeed taken place a couple decades ago, in Indian Express in Bombay, in a page 1 story called "Rape Most Foul." I don't remember the reporter's name now, but I think the resident editor at that time left the newspaper. Maybe some readers of the blog will remember the reporter's name. (I think I know who it is, but don't want to name someone wrongly - he had fabricated a story; I shouldn't).

Anonymous said...

Aroon Purie's latest Editor's Note also has huge "issues", and is being accused of flat out making shit up.

See: http://www.tambdimati.com/another-low-for-india-today-magazine/

Anonymous said...

fabrication, that's exactly what Purie's being accused of (about Goa) at www.tambdimati.com

Shrabonti said...

This is terribly sad (BS's refusal to publish your column). I'd have thought they would show more spunk than that.

Incidentally, your use of tiger-nado as an adjective is brilliant. You might just have started a trend, even though Hendrix coined the term originally :)

Mohit said...

Mitali,

It reflects horribly on BS that your column was not published, and this will tar the way I look at BS in the future.

You talk about some issues in communicating with BS, but say this doesn't exonerate them. Do explain, otherwise you seem to be opening up wiggle room for Mr. Baru and cru.

Mohit Satyanand

Anonymous said...

business standard costs too much money and I have not too much money and therefore I dunno what the hell anything is of.

Rohan Venkat said...

Good on you for standing your ground, and I hope other news orgs are clamoring to pick up Stet.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Wow. That's all I can say.

Actually, I can say something more. Good for you, for sticking to your principles! I wish a fraction of Indian mediapeople had a fraction of your willingness to put your money where your mouth is.

Salil said...

It is Business Standard's loss, Mitali. Well done, upholding your principles.

Salil Tripathi

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Saran,

You rock. I wish more media people were as gutsy and as willing to stand up for their principles.
I had a better opinion of BS and Sanjay Baru but i guess i should no better by now.
All the best and keep it up!

Oh and by the way - i thought the column they spiked was a serious bitchslap in the face of Aroon Purie and his newsmagazine which has fallen into the doldrums in the past couple of years.

- A fan.

ayesha said...

A lot goes on behind the closed doors in a news organisation... print or television. One of these ugly but true secrets is out in the open. And was tried to be brushed under the carpet. But this needs to be plugged... else the next generation of 'journos' and 'writers' will inherit the disease called plagiarism. But our breed of writers and journalists will not let it happen. Thanks Mitali.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Mitali. More power to folks like you. I had stopped subscribing to BS longtime back for its PR masquerading as news or analysis. For example, I didn't like articles by Aditi Phadnis because those articles seem to have been written over a cup of chai with a buddy politico. Now that the editor is a former a PMO type, nothing better can be expected i suppose.

Anonymous said...

Kudos for standing up for what you believe in.

Anonymous said...

I really am surprised at BS fighting shy of carrying a piece that lampoons Poorie.

BTW, The Hoot, which exposes media shenighans, and helped exposed the IT one too, is edited by someone closely related to the chief of BS.

Dattaprasad said...

'Thundering Silence....' Rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass-off!!

Ankana said...

hello mam
i am an 11 class girl .actually every sat i wait for business standad just to read ur column. i feel the ease wid which u write is really lovable and sweet,actuaaly if possible then plz post ur contact no. or ur email id so that i can contact u.. i mean i know u r a biggie columnist but still i want sumthing dearly frm u.plzzzz i know i am being very informal.. but wat can u expect frm a 16 yr old gal ,,,
really mam i need ur help ..

Ashish said...

Ouch.
That was my first reaction. And well, Business Standard just lost a subscriber.

Kudos to you, Mitali - and all the very best!

Ashish said...

Ouch.
That was my first reaction. And well, Business Standard just lost a subscriber.

Kudos to you, Mitali - and all the very best!

Jon said...

Far out...its good to kick ass. I shall follow your principled stand just as soon as
a) I can find someone to lift up my leg
b) I can persuade someone else to walk gently backwards into it
Good luck. Work on that novel and I'll work on your advance...

Anonymous said...

Wish there were more like you in what passes of for a free press in India today....

videovish said...

Hey Mitali,

I have not been reading BS for ages. But today Chitra Narayanan mentioned what had happened to your column and that you had quit. I'm proud of you.

Vidya

Vidya Viswanathan

Shalini said...

salute you Mitali, huge respect for you for standing on your ground....not heard or seen amongst media or anyone in the country...you set an example.

shalini

Shalini said...

salute you Mitali, huge respect for you for standing on your ground....not heard or seen amongst media or anyone in the country...you set an example.

shalini

Anonymous said...

Well I'd have preferred it if you had set their building on fire but quitting is an acceptable alternative. Never too late to go the Mark Vermuelen way though.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mitali,

Hats off for standing by your principles! I am sure other publications will be falling over themselves to have you write for them.

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

you're kidding. everyone knows that when you do something, uh... virtuous (or whatever) life rewards you by beating the shit out of you. so I prophesy that whatshername will remain unemployed forever, quickly slide into poverty and destitution, and die with an annoying song playing on repeat in her head. yup.

How do we know said...

Its not for nothing that the press / media is called the Fourth Estate. It weilds as much power, and as much responsibility.

Divya Sachar said...

Umm... you might like to take a look at this article I wrote, spoofing the India Today plagiarism issue. http://www.fakingnews.com/2010/11/india-today-plagiarises-playboy-magazine-center-spread/

Tushti Educational Services said...

Hi Mitali,

Maybe you can write about the complete silence of the media - print as well as electronic on the Niira Radia tapes. Nobody in the media is talking about that as well, almost as if nothing happened out there!!

Ritesh

Vijay said...

Such is the Standard of this business!
Vijay

Vijay said...

Such is the standard of this business!
Vijay

iamthetiger said...

bravo girl, plenty of spunk and guts too, v r with you,

Anonymous said...

I certainly am a profession I can be proud of.

S said...

You had me at 'The total lack of surprise or shock about all this in the journalist community is the best indicator that Indian media is in crisis as far as integrity is concerned'. I agree with you COMPLETELY.

My teacher told me to read this. I don't think I'd have the guts to quit my job. You're awesome.

Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

JK

When you can afford to have attitude, you're lucky

SN said...

'Jet lag is clearly injurious to the health of journalism.'

At least his creativity is intact, if not his principles.

Bubla Basu said...

This article and this action has spurred on an extended classroom debate that is of immense importance for a generation to whom nothing but immediate and instant gratification is of any consequence.I thank you, Mitali, for energising my class!

Bubla Basu

Anonymous said...

Ok so stet in BS had died an abrupt, undeserved death but does this mean you don't plan to write here any more? Please do keep writing.

-- Smitha

Tara said...

Hello Mitali! We miss your writing! Do keep posting here!

full absolutes said...

I was hugely surprised and shocked to not find one of my fav columns in BS one weekend and now more so now that I know the reason...
please keep writing here for the sake of your fans!

Anonymous said...

This is so much more than plagiarism. Morals don't seem to be one of Aroon Purie's strong points either. In his letter to Grady Hendrix of Slate, he wrote, 'I would like to apologize to you as well.' I highly doubt that it qualifies as an apology for committing a punishable crime.

Reflects on us Indians, too. This is just a shame.

Anonymous said...

Please write again!

Jyots said...

Hopelessly devoted to reading your words...please keep writing, Mitali??

Anonymous said...

Please do write in here.We miss your column!

Anonymous said...

Yes, please keep writing...

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best post