Last week, BuzzFeed fired Viral Politics editor Benny Johnson for lifting phrases and sentences from other sources, chiefly Wikipedia—a phenomenon some attributed to Johnson’s lack of training and the Internet’s lack of rules. But at least one trained journalist at the rule-bound New York Times couldn’t resist copying from the online encyclopedia, either.
Last night, Mediabistro’s Richard Horgan highlighted several similarities in wording and structure between a July 24 article by veteran Times reporter Carol Vogel and Wikipedia’s entry for Piero di Cosimo, the Italian Renaissance painter. “Vogel’s lede is far too close to Wikipedia for unattributed comfort,” Horgan writes.
Here’s Wikipedia: “Reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food; he lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Vasari, ‘more like a beast than a man’.”
And here’s Vogel: “He is said to have been terrified of thunderstorms and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food, subsisting mostly on hard-boiled eggs that he prepared 50 at a time while heating glue for his art. He didn’t clean his studio. He didn’t trim the trees in his orchard. Giorgio Vasari, the Renaissance biographer, described Piero as living ‘more like a beast than a man.’”
Finally, here are the passages side-by-side, with the differences highlighted:
As the comparison shows, Vogel appears to have substituted and deleted a few words, but otherwise left the structure—and several strings of words—mostly intact.
Vogel doesn’t have the strongest record of proper sourcing: In 2013 she took flak from Modern Art Notes’ Tyler Green on three separate occasions for neglecting to credit other outlets who broke art-world stories.
To their credit, the Times is paying more attention this time. In an email to Gawker, spokesperson Eileen Murphy wrote: “We’re aware of the situation and are looking into it.”
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