Local paper has yet to apologize for wrongful termination and probably never will

By Gregory Moore

One of the hardest things to do in this microwavable world is to make sure that you don’t ‘lift’ something from another publication and if you do, do so in a professional manner that affords that publication the right of publication and reading from viewers/readers.

I know it sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo jargon but in the world of journalism, getting the facts straight is truly paramount to being a good journalist; or in this case writer.

I’ve often had to explain to people the difference between the job of a reporter and/or writer and that of a columnist. The biggest difference is that columnists give their opinions based upon factual information and situations that are brought to their attention. Reporters and writers simply cover the news event as it happens.

But when it comes to the world of Internet reporting and blogging, there is a fine line between the two and sadly the big time news organizations still do not understand how this process needs to be handled both internally and from a professional point of view. Oftentimes what ends up happening is that many well intentioned reporters who are assigned a Twitter account or are asked to blog start playing fast and loose and it gets them in trouble. Others, who stick to the time honored protocols of their shop, are caught up in the managerial meat grinder because somebody else is trying to cover their butt or is worried about the perceived notion of plagiarism.

When it comes to reporters who fall in the latter scenario, proving your employer wrong can be career ending and financially troublesome. But if a reporter is true to himself and believes in his work, he or she sometimes prevails.

Such a situation happened with former sports writer Harry Page.

Last month, Page won a defamation of character case against his former boss and the Express News didn’t even mention that fact in its on publication.

Page, who is a 1970 graduate of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, was a long time sports writer for the San Antonio Express News.

A 30-year veteran reporter who was also a bowling aficionado, Page was accused of plagiarizing some information in his bowling blog.

According to Bob Richter of the Express News in a November 2007 posting about plagiarism and the media. Richter had opined about several incidents and the last one was about Page and the afore mentioned incident.

In the November 2007 piece Richter said about Page and the issue in relation to the other plagiarized notations, “Which leads me to the sad but necessary duty of telling readers of the Express-News and MySA.com that veteran E-N sports staffer Harry Page was terminated last week for lifting information — which he presented in his bowling blog as his own — from two websites: http://www.bowl.com, the Web site of the U.S. Bowling Congress, and http://www.pbatour.com, the Professional Bowlers Association Tour Web site.”

“The plagiarized work appeared only on MySA.com and has been removed.” (November 13, 2007)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t do my due diligence in disclosure here so here goes.

First off Page is a good friend of mine but he is also a classmate of my father, who also graduated from St. Mary’s during the same time.

And while he and my father do not have any relationship in the media realm, I would definitely be derelict of duty in not bringing this fact to light.

Let me also say that I have several good friends who work at the Express News and each and every one of them are professional in their duties.

Now with that said, let me also say that while I may understand with what the Express News ‘had’ to do at the time, I was not in favor of it then and I definitely am not a big fan of them now for one reason; they haven’t written an apology to Page in any shape or form in a public fashion.

To me that shows arrogance and an unwillingness to admit that they were wrong in the termination. From this viewpoint, what I see is Big Brother not wanting admit that he screwed up and that maybe a cautious approach on the matter would have served everyone, including Page.

But that’s hindsight and we all know where that gets us these days.

In retrospect when it comes to the Express News and its handling of Internet properties, there are still hurdles to overcome and guidelines to write. But what is being lost in this world of taming the wild, Wild West known as Internet reporting is the penchant to giving veteran employees the benefit of the doubt.

This has come about because of mainly Jayson Blair and how he embarrassed the New York Times and subsequently the Express News. (To understand this point, click here)

For news pros like Page, being publicly lambasted by an employer means your reputation is tarnished. And so it would be only right and fair that the San Antonio Express News, or better still its parent company, Hearst, would come out and do a prominent story about how it made a mistake against one of its own and ‘publicly’ ask Harry for forgiveness and accept a public apology.

That would seem to be the fair thing to do right?

Well as of this posting, I haven’t seen one story about the Express News losing their case to Page and that is a red flag in my book.

We all make mistakes and sometimes we pay some heavy prices in doing so.

But a man’s reputation and his career were thrown to the crapper because somebody at the Express News didn’t double check their own work and see that Page had done his job.

Why should he have paid for someone else’s shortcoming?

And now that he did, why won’t his former employer at least publicly say that they were wrong?

Because it is just something that is rarely done.

Retractions are nice to see but if we see one from the Express News on this issue, it will probably be buried somewhere so deep that it would become insignificant.

This isn’t insignificant to Page and to any other reporter who has been falsely accused of committing the great sin of lifting someone else’s work.

The Express News needs to do right in this regard not so much for Page but for its readership.

If the paper is about fairness and balance, then this shouldn’t be that big of a deal and the legal department should have already had a statement crafted to go the following day.

That is if they truly believe in accepting the fact that maybe they were wrong in this case.

In any case, Page’s win in court is one for all those other reporters who are going through similar situations.

Hopefully their employers may see the light and give a public apology to them.

I’m sure Harry would appreciate one right now too.

I know I would if I were in this situation.

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One response to “Local paper has yet to apologize for wrongful termination and probably never will

  1. I am so glad to learn of Harry’s vindication. He is a great writer, an all around nice guy and a great friend.

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