Close imitation: the Telegraph, the Olympics and my blog
As tempting as it to be emotional from the get-go, I shall leave it at the door - or at least park it as an addendum item.
I’d like anyone - ideally - who reads this blog to make their own judgement before reading the rest of my commentary. In doing this it perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of what I’m trying to put across. The facts are as follows:
- I have - for over a year - been writing a series of blogs, based on my own personal experiences, on getting official tickets to attend the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
- The latest addition to my blog on this matter went live in the very early hours of Thursday, 28 June 2012. You can read it here: http://goo.gl/xS09b
- Some 24 hours later, The Daily Telegraph went live with a piece on their Olympics 2012 section, on tickets. You can read it here: http://t.co/GBdWnNkN
I should add that on the morning of June 28, my piece was shared by a third-party with a Telegraph writer called Alice Philipson on Twitter. As it transpires, Ms. Philipson was the writer of the piece that went live on the Telegraph website on Friday morning.
That same morning, as I headed to the office from a client meeting I found my Twitter feed full of references to my piece and something to do with the Telegraph. Much of this had been flagged by a large core of the Olympic ticket-hunting community who’ve read my work. In their eyes, an act of plagiarism had taken place. I had a limited view until I had a chance to review and consume myself.
Indeed I did compare the pieces - and I cannot escape the fact that both from a content and structural perspective, the pieces are very similar. Naturally I was stunned. As flattering as it could be considered, the fact that neither Ms. Philipson nor anyone else at the Telegraph sought to speak to me to either gain permission, clarify facts or even engage in a sense of collaboration brought a compounding sense of disappointment.
News of this spread amongst other ticket hunters, as well as friends and family on a number of social networks. As opposed to baying for blood I wanted to escalate in the proper fashion - e-mailing their editorial team and even dropping a Tweet to their Editor, Tony Gallagher. I had no idea if I had recourse from a legal perspective - I guessed not - but I certainly expected the Telegraph to respond in a respectful, transparent manner seeing that I purposefully sought to avoid sandbagging their social media channels with irate Tweets and posts…
This was my initial e-mail to Telegraph editorial:
Dear Telegraph team,
I’ve signed-in this morning to find that one of your reporters has lifted a significant amount of content and structure from a blog I have written about Olympic tickets.
My piece went live on the early hours of Thursday morning - and today I note that Alice Philipson has had a piece go live this morning which reads as a virtual copy of my original.
I am very disappointed that I have not been credited in any way in her article despite providing nearly all the inspiration and content for it! I did not give any permission for the piece to be reproduced.
I would ask that the piece be corrected appropriately, either giving me due credit or be removed completely from all of your channels henceforth. If you cannot do this, I would be very interested to hear what you can offer by means of compensation.
As I’m sure you can appreciate, being London 2012, this is a very social issue and I see commentary has been made on various channels this morning. I am flattered your publication deemed my work so useful - and would’ve been happy to have been approached and produce from scratch a piece as a paid writer - perhaps this is a route of compensation you and your team should consider! Instead, it is sad such a fine institution has to resort to copying other people and failing to disclose and recognise it.
I look forward to hearing what action you plan to take very shortly.
This was the response I received from Chei Amlani, the Telegraph’s Digital Olympics Editor:
Dear Sri Sritharan,
Thanks for your email earlier about our last-minute ticket guide. This is a piece Alice has been working on for a few days. She has been in contact with a number of people on Twitter with questions about tickets and has been pointed to a number of places, including your blog, for further information.
You clearly have an understanding of the ticketing process and Alice has used some of the information in your blog to help build her piece, which is very much her own work. She has not plagiarised your blog and she clearly has no trouble in crediting sources when required. She has equally directed users to other Twitter accounts whom she deemed useful to the process. The fact that she did not link to you was an unfortunate oversight that was rectified very quickly this morning by adding a link to your Twitter page.
Like you, we are passionate about the Olympics and have covered the ticketing process, along with many other subjects, comprehensively for some time.
I trust this is of assistance.
This was my response back to Mr. Amlani:
Dear Chei Amlani,
Thank you for your e-mail.
In fairness much of what you have outlined below was to be expected from someone in your position. But no one can escape the structural and content-based similarities between my piece and Alice’s. I’m not going to list these ad nauseam; if you do cannot see it then I fear any amount of direct communication is going to be a waste of time.
Add to the fact that were it not for social media intervention this morning I wouldn’t have got any recognition at all – which in turn speaks volumes for the proactivity and responsibility shown by your team. One wonders how many bloggers and contributors the Telegraph are “researching” at any given time to harvest free content.
Personally, I hold no ill-will toward Alice – she has clearly been let down by a team that far from offering any recompense or formal recognition (note the hyperlink to my Twitter handle is incorrect – an “oversight” indeed) cannot even bring themselves to apologise to me for the matter.
I look forward to sharing this experience with Olympic ticket hunters and bloggers alike soon. Like you say Mr. Amlani, we both share a passion for the Olympics, and this experience will not perturb me from writing more pieces in future and collaborating with responsible providers.
Regrettably for the Telegraph, enough people on social media channels are intelligent enough to recognise plagiarism when they it. The fact that it was brought to my attention by people who are readers of your output should make it clear that it is your readers who have marked you as plagiarists, not just me.
And this was Mr. Amlani’s final response to me:
We have looked at your blog. The structure and content are not the same as Ms Philipson’s, which is very much her own work.
Whilst I never expected Mr. Amlani or Ms. Philipson to concede full complicity in an alleged act of plagiarism, I certainly expected more recognition and more class from those representing a publication that’s 157 years old. Mr. Amlani’s conceited attitude is perhaps endemic of large organisations who believe they can harvest content for free from those actually doing the work and gathering the data.
To stress, I hold no grudge toward Ms. Philipson, as made clear in my communications above. Had she reached out to me formally I’d have been happy to help her as I have with other journalists and publications previously.
What is abundantly clear in all of this is the fact that had no red flag been posted in my direction, the Telegraph team would have not even extended the courtesy of posting my Twitter handle in their article. Which perhaps anchors the view of plagiarism in this instance. That Mr. Amlani could not even bring himself to apologise for the errors underscores the Telegraph’s attitudes to both bloggers and readers everywhere.
While I would never put this scenario in the league of the Tatty Devine/Claire’s case, or Paperchase/Hidden Eloise saga, this incident highlights a number of issues with today’s media. Once upon a time, TV and print news would actually pay money to have people investigate properly - perhaps a member of Mr. Amlani’s team would have actually bought tickets and talked to the ATRs directly in this instance. But why bother doing that when you can troll on Twitter for a while and get the story completely gratis?
To go 360 on matters however, and as someone pointed out to me on Friday, the fact that the Telegraph had to borrow so heavily from a number of sources via social media indicates that in the most very real sense, newspapers are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The group I referenced heavily in my piece - the 2012Tweeps - have been helping people around the world get Olympic tickets, safely and legally. This is the same group that has helped Olympians like Zac Purchase, Dai Greene and Laura Trott get tickets for the Games. One has to ask, what has the Telegraph done for our Olympians in this respect?
I now consider the matter closed. I look forward to writing more about the Games over the next couple of months and collaborating with some great people in the process. I have said all along that my objective with these blogs was to help those who are without tickets get to the London Games.
To that end, both the Telegraph and I share a common objective. But moreover, I am a writer - an antiquated one at best - but one who strives to put himself out there when he can. IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin once said “The Olympic Spirit is neither the property of one race nor of one age.” Perhaps the guys in SW1 should remember that next time they do some research.
SPORTO! // F1’s fans let the truth on the BBC whizz by
I’ll start this piece by saying that I am a long-time F1 fan. Not quite a hard-core devotee but I remember where I was the day the Senna died: I was in my living room with my Dad watching the race on TV.
For years, F1 has enjoyed a prime spot on the terrestrial schedules of British television. Between the long tenure of the BBC and the interim spots held by ITV, fans have got their fix season-in, season-out. This however changes from 2012, following the announcement that Sky will become lead broadcaster of the championship, showing every race uninterrupted. In turn, the BBC retain partial live rights (including screening the British and Monaco Grand Prix) with other races available in highlight form. It is the first time in the UK that motor sport’s premier event goes all-in with a subscription broadcaster.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an outcry and most of the vitriol has been aimed at the Beeb. It has become clear, following the Coalition Government’s election last year that the corporation would be targeted heavily for budget cuts and so that has proved. Right now, all departments are facing belt-tightening and sport in particular is under the microscope. As the state broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to produce and transmit many of the ‘crown jewels’ including the Olympics, the football World Cup and the Grand National. F1 by comparison is not a crown jewel sport, which means it was always a prime target for cut-backs. Reports suggest the corporation had to choose between renewing Wimbledon (again, another crown jewel) or committing to F1. They plumped for SW19 and the rest is the hysteria playing out in front of us now.
The outcry of many F1 “fans” has felt grossly disproportionate, lacking not only perspective but actually presenting them and their sport in rather poor taste. Scanning the #F1 tag on Twitter on Friday, one was left thinking the fan base was arrogant in some of their commentary. Yet, the hypocrisy in many of their Tweets belies the fact that the BBC possibly made the right decision.
Firstly, the sport isn’t disappearing entirely from free-to-air broadcast. The Beeb still have it for a couple of seasons and there is the possibility of continuing; if they don’t, it’s certain one of the other terrestrial networks will snap the rights up. What the fans consistently fail to acknowledge is the fact that covering F1 in the way the BBC have costs a lot of money. The production values are high (this author concurs with Murray Walker’s recent sentiments that the current edition of F1 is not just the best ever seen in Britain but probably the world) and with personnel and travel costs, not forgetting the technology needed to provide multi-platform output, the real value of committing to what is largely a niche sport is questionable.
Secondly, F1 under the stewardship of Bernie Ecclestone have long made it clear that sport is about making money. Indeed it is less ‘sport’, more ‘product.’ The cost of watching races live has long been regarded as excessive yet fans – many of whom are the same fans up in arms over the loss of free viewing - continue to pay the money for tickets and merchandise. F1 knows it is a commodity for a demographic that possesses disposable income; the profiling is clear. Dear Bernie wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid over the loss of viewers versus the cumulative money generated from UK television rights. Buoyed by the expansion of the sport in emerging markets like India, Korea and the Middle East it won’t be long before the powerbase of F1, mainland Europe, is jettisoned for new money. F1 is run by skilled politicians who can present all the right arguments. The numbers didn’t add up for the BBC for the right reasons – they did for Sky, and even in the face of antagonising sponsors, they did for the F1 teams. That collective arrogance struck perfectly.
Finally, F1 is not the nation’s sport. There is large support but that is still dwarfed by those who follow football, cricket and rugby. Many dovetail into one-another, but a critical point here is this: kids can’t go and “play” F1 at the weekend. Whilst it is a sport of imagination and fantasy, it is ultimately the pursuit of the few and not the many. The upcoming Olympic Games in London bring into sharp focus the genuine value of athletic sport and the impact it can have on society. It is perhaps for these reasons the BBC ultimately chose to trim its support of F1.
Sky will, as they always do, give the coverage an added sheen (how much better it will be than the BBC’s is questionable) and have made soothing noises on the eternal bugbear of F1 fans on commercial channels: the presence of ads between coverage. One can only hope they do better than their failed one season venture in 2002.
Going back to the point on arrogance, the “fans” showed their colours by attacking the corporation and its commitment to other sports and broader output; even anchorman Jake Humphrey came in for ferocious stick for making a couple of thoughtful comments in the slipstream of the announcement. The outcry imbued a public completely divorced from reality.
The BBC does not exist for F1. In the eyes of many of its commercial and political rivals, the BBC has no right chasing deals for massive sports packages. Some would have them covering no sport at all. It was this government that put the squeeze on the corporation to cut, yet the F1 supporters have no appetite to lobby Messrs Hunt and co.
They extol how unfair it is to simple folk who can’t afford to pay the Sky subscriptions, completely ignoring the fact that football fans haven’t been able to watch top flight games live on any terrestrial network for nearly 20 years. Or that cricket fans haven’t seen a live, free-to-air, home Test match in 6 years. The last time an away Test series was shown on the BBC was over 10 years ago. When you add other sports such as rugby, tennis and athletics, F1 has had it extremely good. In many ways, this day was always coming.
BLOGLET: Hailing Harry Potter: Star Wars for the iPod generation
As British filmgoers gathered at their multiplexes and cinemas in-between this weekend, the overbearing sense of finality was clear. This would be the last time we’d see Harry Potter on the big screen. The boy who lived, and so created an industry defining franchise, had come to die.
The second installment of ‘Deathly Hallows’ satisfied fans in all the ways expected. The truth about Snape finally came, Hermione and Ron did the deed, and Harry and Voldemort had a battle to the death to rival any committed to celluloid. Indeed, their battles over the final few films bore more than a passing resemblance to those of Luke and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. And the comparison is just: the Harry Potter series has ultimately become Star Wars for the iPod and Facebook generation.
The films will never garner critical acclaim, nor were all were perfect. While talk of Oscars next year to recognise the success of the entire series (à la Peter Jackson’s LOTR in 2004) seems mischievous, J.K. Rowling’s creation was never intended to satisfy intellectuals. It was, and remains, a hearty slice of modern fiction for young and old alike. The series represented the best of British and has continuously captured the imagination of a cinematic public for a decade.
Rowling’s determination for her story to be grounded in Britain meant fans were spared the gaudy possibility of Steven Spielberg helming the opening movies with Haley Joel Osment playing Potter. The delicious casting of the great and good of stage and screen provided the entire series with a gravitas and feathering of detail that the richness of the books required.
As for the three protagonists, we’ve grown to love Harry, Ron and Hermione and the actors behind them. It’s genuinely sad to think about Radcliffe, Grint and Watson and know that they will never have this good again in their entire careers. Not because they lack talent, but because Harry Potter was a publishing phenomenon – now their work has made the eight-film series the most successful franchise in cinema history, trumping twenty-two Bonds among others.
Indeed the success of the film series came over a decade in which James Bond and Batman were rebooted with huge success; add to that the Spider-man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Matrix and X-Men series, along with a cavalcade of Pixar hits, James Cameron’s Avatar and conjoined fantasy rival Lord of the Rings. Once the complete cinematic run of Potter is completed worldwide, the series will have generated close to $8,000,000,000.
As to whether we have seen the last of the boy in the cupboard, only Rowling has the answer. The eagerly-anticipated Pottermore enterprise due for launch next year hints at revealing plenty of content that never made the books or the films. And in an age where tablets and social media are part of any modern wizard’s get-up, one can expect plenty of crowd sourcing and reengagement with the property as a new generation come to the fore.
What odds on a prequel or spin-off making the big screen within a few years?
For now, fans and observers can only raise their proverbial wands in thanks and appreciation for a film series that has entertained millions, and which has been a fantastic asset to the British film industry and the country as a whole.
Twitter, as with much in modern society, had its finger on the pulse on this opening weekend for the final Potter. The following, from author Stephen King, best sums the sentiment held for the series and perhaps the true distain for another that looks to take its crown:
Harry Potter is about doing what’s right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.