10.18.06 Oh, this is sleazy
I’m a sometime journalist, which puts me in some ugly company – I’m well aware the job title is shared by the likes of Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera and legions of other desperate, clueless hacks…
Over my own 15-odd year course of writing and reporting stories for newspapers and magazines, I’ve probably done a fair amount of hackery myself. And I’m sure I’ve done a few people wrong along the way.
But this week I’ve finally gotten a close-up look at how bad journalism looks from the other side of the notebook. And all I can say is, yuck.
A month or so back I was contacted by a producer for ABC World News Tonight about a story he was putting together on adult kickball. We talked about the World Adult Kickball Association and my own experience in the sport, and then I told him about all the other kidgames featured in the book and on this blog. He was unaware how far the phenomenon went, and so I happily filled him in on skipping, tag, dodgeball, staredown and rock paper scissors. Over the course of the next few weeks, we talked three or four more times as he followed my leads for footage and interviewed the tag players and rock paper scissors people. And then one afternoon in September a crew came to my house for what ended up being an hour-long interview.
The story aired last week… and there it all was, a full five minute World News Tonight feature on kidgames reclaimed by adults. Only one thing was missing: any reference to me or the book. Especially galling was a standup by correspondent Dean Reynolds, in which he said, “In fact any game you may have played at recess as a kid is probably now being played somewhere by adults. There are now staredown leagues for example. There’s an international skipping movement. And even a tag institute.”
That sounded awfully familiar - if I didn’t use those exact words in our interview, I said something very much like it.
When I called the producer the next day, he acknowledged that he “got guidance” from me but that he talked to 50 people and referred to other stories on the topic (though when pressed, he conceded that none of the other stories included all the examples he ended up using). His bureau chief agreed that no wrongdoing was done and that they would not apologize or even acknowledge that a mistake had been made. The best they could muster was to say they were “sorry I feel that way,” which felt even more unsatisfactory since that’s what I tell my wife when she’s got PMS and is raging about the lack of ice cream in the house…
I’ve raised the issue with ABC standards and practices and hope they at least acknowledge that this wasn’t model journalism. I’m told by friends in publishing biz that this sort of thing is happening more and more – reporters hard-up for angles will appropriate someone else’s work, if not their precise wording. While I absolutely recognize I don’t own this story, I think we can all agree it’s at best sloppy and at worst sleazy not to at least cite a source when a reporter cites several examples, follows several leads and even lifts some wording from someone who has spent many years studying a topic....
I’m incredibly grateful the book has gotten all the nice media attention it has – which makes this latest episode seem all the sleazier…
Well that just stinks. And in rejuvenile lingo, that producer is a big fat doo-doo head.
Posted by Jason Kotecki on 10/20 at 08:13 AM