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The News Suspends Sports Reporter

 

National Football League Draft

The Buffalo News ran another promotional story this morning with the headline “News draft coverage a top pick” that mentions its “deep roster” of sports reporters and columnists who will be involved in the coverage of the upcoming NFL Draft.

Rodney McKissic, who has been covering the Buffalo Bills, isn’t mentioned for a good reason.

According to multiple sources, McKissic has been suspended by The News for a month without pay because of plagiarism.

Asked in an email if she cared to comment on the reason or reasons for the suspension for plagiarism, Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan wrote: “The News’ ethical standards were breached and we took appropriate action. Beyond that, I have no comment.”

We’ll have to take her word for a month suspension being “appropriate action” because the details of what McKissic was accused of doing are sketchy. According to sources, the content in question was in a blog and it was brought to the newspaper’s attention by a reader.

Typically when reporters or columnists around the country commit plagiarism or some other ethical transgression, their newspapers tell their readers about it to assure them that standards are being adhered to and such conduct won’t be tolerated. When something like this happens, the editors of newspapers also often research the writer’s work to see if it was a one-time occurrence or a pattern of behavior.

As far as I can tell, Sullivan, who writes occasional columns and now a daily blog, hasn’t addressed McKissic’s suspension in either of those forums. She would be wise to do so in the newspaper and not her blog. If she does address it, she should also say whether McKissic will return to the Bills beat after his suspension ends or if he will be reassigned.

To be honest, I thought long and hard before deciding to address the suspension myself. Ultimately, I decided it had to be written because, as a media columnist, I now hold the newspaper to the same standards as I have held local television and local radio for 30 years.

When I was the News TV critic, my rule was to ignore gossipy stories unless they impacted what viewers saw on the air or if the personalities involved were punished. The McKissic situation fits the criteria.

I’m not here to defend McKissic. It is impossible to defend plagiarism. But reporters and columnists are under more and more stress these days to feed the daily beast in multiple platforms, which can lead to more missteps like this. Additionally, there has been a time-honored tradition among sports personnel to share stories to fill weekly notes stories. The sources of the notes are usually attributed, but not always.

McKissic’s punishment might lead to more sourcing at the News when staffers write stories they initially read elsewhere. Who knows, The News might eventually even credit stilltalkintv when it rewrites a local TV story it is initially alerted to by reading this blog.

After all, it has been a time-honored tradition in journalism to give credit where credit is due and that tradition shouldn’t be discontinued just because a former staffer is the one breaking the news.

A reader recently sent me an email in which a News staffer credited a tweet from Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports for a brief online story about Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill planning to visit the Buffalo Bills. The reader added: “Perhaps sports is ahead of the curve on this kind of thing?”

Notably, The News first credited the Associated Press online for breaking the story that Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black said Coach Lindy Ruff and General Manager Darcy Regier will be back for another season. It then got a hold of Black and wrote that “it confirmed” the story and dropped the AP as the initial source. That seems wrong. You should credit the organization that broke the story that you are confirming.  

But I don’t want to beat a dead horse. The point is if it hasn’t already, The News should probably establish a clearer standard of what to credit as a source so its staffers know the rules they need to follow.

pergament@msn.com  

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4 responses to "The News Suspends Sports Reporter"

  1. Mark Scott says:

    I don’t know if I agree with you totally, Alan, about your contention of crediting an original source once a reporter nails down a story on his/her own.

    Indeed, all media organizations should credit the source when using a story they haven’t followed up on their own. I come from a branch of the media that blatantly broke this rule in years past. I remember one Buffalo radio station in the early 1990s that traditionally gave the Buffalo News to their morning reporter and had her rewrite several articles and voice them as her own. THAT WAS WRONG! I’m pleased to say that today, the two local news radio stations, WBFO/AM 970 and WBEN, do credit the Buffalo News when running one of their stories.

    But once a story is out there, and a reporter talks with their own sources to get the story, I don’t see a need to credit the original source. So, the Buffalo News was right in crediting the AP before it had a chance to follow up on the Sabres’ decision to retain Ruff and Regier. But once the News reporter nailed down the story on his own, such crediting is no longer necessary, in my opinion. I mean, I learned of the crash of Flight 3407 when an NPR news editor got me out of bed to notify me of the crash. Does that mean I had to credit NPR when I went to the radio station and got on the air? Of course not. That would be absurd. I learned of former Governor Spitzer’s involvement in the prostitution ring from the New York Times, and credited them in my initial on-air bulletin. But within an hour, the story had spread like wildfire — with Spitzer eventually making a broadcast statement — and that attribution was no longer necessary.

    Now, there are occasions when a news organization’s particular story is so big — that the enterprise work was so superior — that one does offer credit, even after your own reporter has gotten comment on it. For example, Gawker was mentioned often as the original source of the Chris Lee story. But even then, the need to credit wears away. When someone today refers to Lee’s shirtless photo, they no longer mention Gawker. And that’s okay.

    I know it can be frustrating, Alan, when you report a story and then read about it after the News confirmed it. There were a couple of occasions during my years at WBFO when we aired a fairly big story. A week later, it would appear in the News. I’m not sure if the News learned of it from us or came across it on their own. But I’ll admit it was certainly frustrating that the story would only gain traction once the News wrote about it. It was especially galling to hear other media outlets credit the News. “Hey, wait a minute,” I would yell, “We had that a week ago.” But it is what it is. The News is the media giant in town!

    I don’t envy reporters working full time in today’s media environment. Things seem so muddled. People re-Tweet and post on Facebook. An electronic blog is much more informal than publishing a written article in the newspaper. Like you, Alan, we shouldn’t excuse what happened to Rodney McKissic. But I can certainly understand why it happened.

    • alanp says:

      Thanks Mark. I believe The Times was given credit for the Spitzer story for days. Same with Gawker and Lee. Let’s agree to disagree. My contention is if you are confirming something, you should say what the something is. Over time you don’t need to.

  2. Tad says:

    Is that NFL Draft photo licensed?

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