In the second screw-up of a thriving journalism career over plagiarism in recent weeks — in this case with a 31-year-old business writer for The New York Times, Zachery Kouwe — over-production seems to be the culprit.
It’s too easy to line up and waggle fingers at anyone caught doing this. It’s much harder to be that person.
Any journalist who still has a job, at The New York Times, (which just axed 100 people from the newsroom, some who took the buy-out, some canned), or elsewhere is under the gun. They know very few other jobs are out there, certainly not at the $80-100k/year plus that an outfit like the Times is paying. With 24,000 print journalists losing their jobs in 2008-2009, it’s easy to feel like a polar bear tap-dancing on a shrinking ice floe, staring across what was miles of solid ice at a very large expanse of open water. Once you’ve gotten a good job, like many others these days, damned if you’re going to blow it.
No one wants to trash their career. Few intend to do so. Hearing stories like that of Gerald Posner and Kouwe, both of whom basically said “I was writing too much” begs the question — what’s too much?
In my most frenzied month of freelancing, I cranked out 9,000 words: from initial call to the people I interviewed to final copy. Kouwe was doing almost that each week, he says.
In addition to my blogging here and other writing and editing work, I’m writing a non-fiction book and, after about 2,000 words a day, I’m pretty tired. I hope to produce 5,000 to 6,000 per week, i.e. a chapter. I have a deadline, but it is months away — not minutes, as it is with a blog, for Kouwe and anyone else trying to keep up, let alone lead, a large and competitive pack.
From The New York Observer:
In the coming days, inevitably, The Times will look inward to ask whether the pace of publishing in the blogs can be sustained given the level of editorial oversight they obviously need.
The DealBook banner says that it is “edited by Andrew Ross Sorkin.” Though he does oversee it, he does not edit the majority of its posts, sources said. The editing responsibilities of DealBook are primarily left to Jack Lynch, who staffers said aggregates for the site and posts items and doesn’t precisely give thorough spot checks on each item that he posts.
“Many people have thought for quite a long time that DealBook was the part of BizDay that desperately needed a baby sitter,” said one staffer.
A Times spokeswoman said, “Our journalistic standards are the same online as they are in print.”
When we asked Mr. Kouwe if he felt he needed stronger editing, or if perhaps the breakneck pace was to blame, he said, “It wasn’t anybody else. I was pushing myself to do as much as I possibly can. It was careless.”
The web is a lovely thing for many of us, offering freelancers and others a larger, more interesting platform for our work and ideas.
Maybe not so much if you are on staff, having to crank out yards of the stuff — while remaining readable, accurate and reliable. These days, added to the daily responsibilities of covering a beat and staying highly visible and productive on it, it’s starting to look like a speeded-up industrial assembly line.
Is this journalism any of us want to read? Or produce?