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.