By Jessica Elgot
October 19, 2010
In August I wrote a story about a British heir to £100m worth of Nazi-looted art, which the chap involved was now dedicating his retirement to tracking down. It was quite an amazing tale, involving some detective work in tracking down the heir, a good deal of persuasion, taking almost an entire day's reporting time. But the work was worth it, it's a great story and made the front page of the JC.
But last week the Newcastle Journal thought it was a great story too. Reprinting almost word-for-word my story with a different few lines at the top to make it more Newcastle-focussed. Every quote I got, each fact I found out was used in their story, under the byline "Dan Warburton".
Trying not to spit blood, I casually enquired how this might have happened. The Journal it seemed had received a copy-and-pasted press release from Straughans, a firm of accountants assisting on the case, who had given us the original tip off. Then the Journal reporter googled the story and decided to help himself to a few more quotes from the story on our website. The Journal is promising to put in the proper attribution, but that's yet to materialise.
But today I happened to pick up the Sunday Telegraph? And guess what? They've printed the Journal's story, albeit they've done a better job of rewriting the press release than the Journal, but still, my quotes are there. And they don't attribute the Journal - whom I guess they believed did the original story. The story doesn't appear to be on their website, though it was printed in Sunday's paper on page 31.
This is really a sorry state of affairs for regional and national journalism, not because it's my story but because this is what reporters are now expected to do. The Journal themselves admitted being short staffed the night this happened. Reputable, talented young reporters on local papers simply don't have the time to check these stories out or do their own interviews. A lot of stories are now verbatim press releases. The Sunday Telegraph is almost no better, although at least the reporter (credited as Our Foreign Staff - where does foreign come into it? it's a British story) had the courtesy to rewrite it in their own style.
It's frustrating when it's your story, but it's really sad that it's the way regional journalism is going.