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Meum et tuum

Regret the Error has pointed me to a Gawker report on the latest intellectually dishonest defense of plagiarism.

David Zinczenko, Gawker discovered, regularly copies articles from Rodale’s Men’s Health, removes the bylines, and republishes them under his own name on his “Eat This, Not That” column at Yahoo Health.

A spokesman for Rodale rationalizes this scummy practice:

Rodale owns all rights to the majority of the content that appears in Men's Health, Women's Health, Eat This, Not That! and other branded products. Our editors use that content to promote Rodale and its various properties across all media. As the editor for the Men's Health brand, it's Dave's job to promote the magazine and its extensions. The byline doesn't take credit for the work, but serves as an overarching tag used in conjunction with the logo to indicate that the material has been written, assigned or edited by the brand (i.e. Dave and his team) at some point.

So a byline does not indicate authorship, but merely branding, and David Zincaenko stands shoulder to shoulder with undergraduates who copy and paste from the Internet and authors like Stephen Ambrose who simply appropriate other writers’ work and fob it off as their own.

But, you may ask, isn’t this the same thing that newspaper reporters do in mining the archives? It is true that The Sun owns the rights to the material the staff produces.* And yes, it is common for reporters following up on a story to incorporate information from articles written by other reporters. But simply replacing another writer’s byline with one’s own is not done—and a veteran columnist at the paper who was discovered to have repeatedly incorporated other writers’ distinctive language into his columns, without attribution, no longer works at this paper.

The practice that Rodale approves of is no better than common thievery. If you have David Zinczenko to your house as a dinner guest, I suggest that you might want to count the spoons afterward.


*If I ever make any headway with my book on editing, I will have asked for and received permission from the paper to use material from the staff, including my own.


Posted by John McIntyre at 11:30 AM | | Comments (10)


John, how do we even know that you wrote this blog post? Did you perhaps just brand it using your name?


Incidentally, there was another, similar incidents like this not long ago, albeit a lower-profile one. John, were you actually the person who broke this story to the rest of us?

Something very similar to this happened to me as a high school journalism student. An article I wrote for our school paper appeared (with several minor changes) in a small East-coast magazine a month later. Byline was attributed to the Communications director of the organization. I wrote him a letter pointing this out and would you believe it, never received a reply...

I don't really understand who is wronged here. Students and scholars are forbidden to copy from others' work without attribution precisely because doing so corrupts the evaluation process: their teachers and tenure committees are judging the work of the wrong person. Politicians routinely deliver and publish speeches they didn't write, and are not condemned for this, because we evaluate politicians (supposedly) on their deeds rather than their words.

As far as I can see, there are four possible victims here: Rodale (obviously not, since they approve), the reporters whose bylines were removed (did they sign a contract allowing Rodale to do this?), Zinczenko himself (presumably he's doing this under orders, and he may not like it at all), and the public. I'm not sure which of these you have in mind. Could you elaborate?

It's subterfuge, not branding. Perhaps they just need a good dictionary to help them understand the meaning of words.

On a related note, have you ever tried reading "Eat This, Not That"? I have. It's shallow, unhelpful and horribly written. Why someone would voluntarily put their name to it if not to blame for such drivel is beyond me.

Well, first of all, the public, I guess, JC: they were lied to. The byline is a lie. Well, either that or an overarching tag.

John: I was delighted to see that you mentioned the sainted Stephen Ambrose as a plagiarist. When he died, his instances of cutting and pasting were considered minor faux pas by the obit writers but were in fact quite widespread. Even more alarming for a tenured historian, Ambrose flat out lied about spending substantial time alone with President Eisenhower in preparation for writing Ike's biography. As detailed in a New Yorker article, Eisenhower's schedule shows that, in fact, Ambrose was never alone with Ike at any time. And the man was a professor of history!

By the way, the did you know that Meum and Tuum was the name of the herring lugger that Edward "Omar Khayyam" FitzGerald bought for his friend Joseph "Posh" Fletcher?

Perhaps they should rename the column "Steal This, Not That."

It seems to me, Picky, that a byline indicates the person accountable for what's said, rather than the person who was actually responsible for producing it. After all, it's not like the article came straight from the reporter's keyboard: it's been edited, perhaps heavily.

That's a very fair point, JohnC. And you could add that the work of junior reporters or researchers, or even wire material, might be incorporated within work bylined to a senior reporter.

I remember being somewhat shocked, in my naivety, to read in All the President's Men how far this practice was taken.

The Post's police reporter, Alfred E Lewis 'had never really "written" a story; he phoned the details in to a rewrite man'. After the first hearing of the case against the Watergate burglars 'Eight reporters were involved in putting together the story under the byline of Alfred E. Lewis'.

I don't like any of that. One writer taking responsibility for a collaboration is one thing. A byline that's a piece of fiction is, it seems to me, a piece of fiction.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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