By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Obviously, our staff needs to work on its efficiency, and by "efficiency" we mean maybe they should just steal other paper's stories. Why not? It worked for the Tri-State Defender in Memphis, Tennessee, until recently. According to newspaper reports, the weekly published more than 100 articles between 1995 and 2002 that were lifted wholesale from other weeklies across the country, including at least a couple from the Observer. The "author" merely changed the byline or, in some instances, moved whole sets of facts and people from their original locations to Tennessee. For example, our May 10, 2001, story "Access Denied," about divorced Texas fathers battling to secure visitation rights with their children, was reprinted in the Defender with the same headline, only the divorced father whose case was outlined in the story was given a slightly different name. He also was relocated to Tennessee. Oh, and somehow the issue of fathers' rights became a black issue in the Defender, which circulates primarily in Memphis' black community. The real dad in question is white. (Note to staff: No, getting your story in the Defender doesn't count against quota.)
It gets worse. The Defender also lifted a story from East Bay Express, which like the Observer is owned by New Times Inc., about a police scandal in Oakland, California. Oakland is a far piece from Memphis, so perhaps to stir up local interest, the author of the plagiarized version relocated the scandal to Nashville. Too bad it's not as easy to move actual scandals as it is to ship stories. We could send Dallas' fake-drug cases and police Chief Terrell Bolton off to Nashville in exchange for a pedal-steel guitar player to be named later.
The Memphis Flyer, another weekly, reported that the Defender's owner, Tom Picou, told them that the thefts were the work of an unpaid freelance writer, an elderly white man named Larry Reeves whom Picou had never met. The Flyer then suggested, none too gently, that was a lie and Picou was the author. The Flyer also found several other purloined stories under another byline.
Buzz was unable to locate Picou for comment, though the Defender has apologized for the plagiarism, claiming it was victimized by an unscrupulous--if prolific--freelancer whom apparently no one at the Memphis paper has ever met. (More inside baseball: A prolific and anonymous reporter is what's known in the news biz as "an editor's wet dream.")