Public Editor: Pennsylvania website plagiarizes from Toronto Star

By Kathy English, public editor for the Toronto Star

This is a morality tale about publishing in the digital age: the story of how the work of a Toronto Star reporter was ripped off and published by a rural Pennsylvania news website.

By Kathy English, public editor for the Toronto Star

This is a morality tale about publishing in the digital age: the story of how the work of a Toronto Star reporter was ripped off and published by a rural Pennsylvania news website.

When confronted about this egregious plagiarism, the website’s publisher, one A. William “Bill” Allen of Greenville, Pa., who operates Allen Total Media's Mercer County Free Press/The Daily News apologized, took the Star story down – and blamed an intern for the ethical lapse.

“We made the decision to end his internship over this blatant failure of judgment,” Allen told me when I confronted him about his website having published – without permission or payment — a Jan. 8 story about the Canadian dollar reaching a new low written by Star Business reporter Dana Flavelle. The article “by Mike Hill” was a duplicate of Flavelle’s Star story with two paragraphs of local content inserted.


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Small town intern plagiarizes work of big city reporter would be a good story indeed. But this is not the tale of a rookie journalist’s mistake.

As it turns out, publisher Allen is somewhat infamous in the Western Pennsylvania region where he operates. Seemingly, this is not the first time his website has plagiarized the work of other journalists. And curiously, his “blame the intern” defence went down almost exactly as predicted by the source who informed Flavelle of the theft of her reporting and writing.

“Your story has been stolen by Allen Total Media,” the source told Flavelle. “If you contact them for a takedown notice, don't be surprised if the theft is brushed off as an error made by an overzealous employee who will be fired. That’s the usual response when they are frequently caught for this same abuse.”

This source identified himself by the pseudonym “Charlie Kane.” Those who love movies about newspapers may well, like me, chuckle on realizing the full name of Citizen Kane Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane was Charles Foster Kane.

“Kane,” whose identity I agreed to keep confidential, works at a news organization in Allen’s region. He told Flavelle that he and other area journalists have been “tormented for years by his content thefts

“He has expanded into wholesale theft of stories and photos from some of the finest news organizations in the world — such as your piece.” Kane said.

These are serious allegations demanding further investigation. I reached out first to the Poynter Institute’s Craig Silverman who monitors news industry plagiarism. He had no prior knowledge of this publisher and we decided to work together to learn more. His substantial take on Allen’s operations is now published on Poynter’s site.

What we found left little doubt that our citizen Kane knows whereof he speaks. Four area news executives told me Allen’s websites have published their content without permission. Silverman confirmed that Allen is not a client of The Associated Press but still “often features AP copy published verbatim under varying bylines.” Both The Associated Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are looking further into Allen’s operation.

To continue reading this column, please go the thestar.com where it was originally published.


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