I was reading a friend's blog post a few weeks ago; the subject was one that struck a nerve with me... "giving credit where credit is due".
My friend Katherine Martinko, over at "Feisty Red Hair" on Wordpress, had written a story for a local paper, one which has a print and online presence... The Shoreline Beacon. The paper printed her story but failed to give proper credit. In fact, they didn't give credit at all and when asked why, the paper's response was basically that their policy was not to give credit for guest submissions. The individual at the paper suggested that if one wanted credit, they had to ask for it. Katherine's response to the paper was kinder than mine would have been. Mine would probably go something like this....
"Are you kidding me? Ask for it? Seriously? (My voice would be dripping with sarcasm and have more than just an edge of anger at this point) I shouldn't have to 'ask'... it's my story... you printed it... you give credit where it is due! Isso é um conceito muito difícil para você compreender?"
At this point, I would probably be hearing a dial tone in my ear, not because the person on the other end of the line didn't understand Portuguese, but because that is a fairly common reaction to an angry caller.
I expressed my outrage over the paper's actions with my friend and told her that I was going to write a letter to the editor! I'm getting a little worked up, in case you couldn't tell. So...
Armed with Bella and a big mug of freshly brewed Costa Rica Tarrazu, I settled myself in my sanctum sanctorum and began. And then stopped... resumed... stopped again... picked up where I left off... yeah, this was in the middle of the holidays and if there had been four of me, it would not have been enough, what with everything going on.
Regrettably, my 'fiery' letter to the editor got shuffled, bumped and knocked about for the next couple of weeks until things had settled down from the holidays and I got a couple of deadlines out of the way. Writing isn't all fun and games, you know... deadlines and commitments... school... work... got a wife in there somewhere, who, like fruit on a vine, needs a bit of attention and tending now and again.
The calendar read 15 January when I finally submitted my letter to the newspaper. "Thank you for your submission... we'll get back to you shortly." was the automated response I got after clicking the 'submit' button (does anyone else see the irony in labeling the button as such?)
Guess what? The person at Shoreline Beacon who read my letter was so impressed, they rang me right up and said they wanted to print my letter, with my byline, on the front page of their next edition!
Oh, wait... that's not what happened. What happened is that for the next ten days, I checked my email several times a day, waiting for a response... any response. Hell, by the time day 10 rolled around, I would have been happy with a terse "Don't write to us again, you whack job!" Did I get even that?
I may be channeling Alex from Fatal Attraction at this point... I don't like being ignored. So, I've decided to post my letter to the Shoreline Beacon here on my blog... and on my Wordpress blog... probably get over to LiveJournal as well... and I don't want to forget Facebook, do I?
Okay, enough rambling... ranting... raving... whatever you want to call it... here is the letter I sent to Shoreline Beacon. Please feel free to drop me a line... tell me what you think... share on your blog if you wish.
Mesdames et Messieurs –
It has recently come to my attention that the Shoreline Beacon has a standing policy of not attributing authorship of articles submitted by the public, unless the submitting party requests, in advance, to have their name included in the printed article. I should note that this caveat is not mentioned on the paper’s website submissions page. I am not a legal expert, but it seems to me that absent a clearly defined, and available to the public, policy stating the paper’s terms with regard to guest submissions, you are treading on very thin ice indeed, from both a legal and an ethical viewpoint.
As a writer, I find your policy particularly troubling. Writers live and die by their words. Just as writing is in our souls, so is our souls in our writing… laid bare to the scrutiny of others. And we can be fiercely protective of our work. It appalls me that a newspaper’s ‘standard practice’ is not to give credit unless asked for. Credit for one’s own words should automatically be given. Only if a person requests the paper not use their name, should you consider not using it.
When an individual reads an article in your paper… in any paper or periodical, for that matter… there is an assumption that the words, and the thoughts behind those words, are those of the person whose name appears with a story. When there is no byline present, it is assumed that the story was written by someone on the newspaper’s staff. This is a logical assumption. By your very ‘silence’ on the subject, the paper is implying that the words of any ‘un-bylined’ article are its own, and your readers will have credited such as well. We take it personally, when to all outward appearances, we see others taking credit for what we have written.
When you print a piece submitted by a private citizen and do not acknowledge the authorship, you are, for all intents and purposes, taking credit for that person’s work. I am certain such has never been the paper’s intent, but you must appreciate how it appears. To many, perception is reality. To be perfectly blunt, and to use that dreaded word… your current practice has a whiff of plagiarism.
There was a time when the field of journalism was one of honour and integrity. Newspapers were once held in high esteem and could be counted on to provide to their readers, the truth. Are those days gone? Have we sacrificed an ideal for expediency and the pursuit of a dollar?
I would strongly suggest that you revisit your policy and that proper credit be given to a writer. Credit is not something one should have to ask for; it should be automatic. Absent a change in that direction, I would think that you should at least make your policy available on your website.
There is an old Russian proverb – “Do not accept the words from a man’s lips as truth when his pen writes a lie.”
Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
NOTE – I would request that you print my name. You may also include city and state, but I would prefer that my PO Box and email not be. Thank you.
There! That ought to fix them, huh?
Okay... time to step down from my soapbox... for now.