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17Aug 2012

UPI's second response on misuse of copy

Paul Raeburn
UPI's second response on misuse of copy

In last night's post about UPI's misappropriation of copy from multiple Science News articles, I explained that I had asked UPI's executive editor, John Hendel, for a more complete response to my questions about UPI's practices. In his first email response, Hendel told me that the offending article would be rewritten. I had already noted three articles in which UPI stories were very close paraphrases, and in some parts copies, of Science News stories. I also reminded him that he had said much the same thing a year ago when Science News complained.

In a second email I received this morning, Hendel said this, in full:


I didn't recall that the earlier instance was from the same publication. When such instances are brought to our attention we respond as quickly as possible and appropriately. The more recent instance is from a different writer than the April 2011 article. As we do when such problems are pointed out to us, we have spoken with the writer to stress that that is not our practice and we strive to make it so such issues don't arise again. He has expressed remorse, which we believe is genuine.

If we find there is a trend of continuing violations along this line (generally if they happen, they are found in the editing process), we sever relationships with that stringer.

We do try very hard to avoid this and our writers are reminded often to appropriately attribute the source of the information, whether a journal, news release or another publication. It is an ongoing process for us to watch for this.

That's not enough. It is not enough to rewrite stories or to speak to the writer. Management has an obligation to review editorial practices from top to bottom, to institute tough new policies regarding plagiarism, and to apologize to news organizations from which it has borrowed copy. Science News articles are not press releases to be lightly rewritten by UPI reporters and passed off as original. 

-Paul Raeburn




I can speak only for the AP, but the situation you're describing has nothing to do with the charges reported here.

The AP had an arrangment with each of its member newspapers in which it would provide the paper with news from other papers, and, in return, have the right to pick up stories from the member. We regularly heard from reporters at small papers who urged us to pick up their stories; getting play from AP on the state or national wire was a badge of honor for many.

UPI has no such agreement with Science News, and offers nothing in return for cribbing copy.

It's been more than three decades since I worked for UPI, and perhaps times have changed since then. But back then, a whole lot of our report was stories rewritten out of daily newspapers. "Yesterday's news tomorrow," we joked at the time, constrained as we were by print-on-paper technology and our reliance on "the daily miracle," as nupes were then warmly regarded. However, it was well understood -- by editors and, I'd like to think, readers -- that this was what we were doing. And we would not *dare* put a byline on such a piece. If you signed a story it meant it was your work -- all your work (or facts from other news sources that were clearly attributed to those sources). I don't see much of UPI's work anymore but I do see a lot of AP's and it seems "pickups" of newspaper stories still appear. I have enormous respect for both Paul Raeburn and Curtis Brainard (who wrote about this for CJR: but I want to push back a bit. Was what was right then wrong now? And I wouldn't mind a little discussion from people currently working at AP and UPI about how ethics around "picking up" newspaper or website stories may have changed. 

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