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New Rochelle Patch Responds to Charges of Plagiarism, Bias

Update: [A day after Patch responded to plagiarism, denying the claim that the local editor lifted a photo, Patch admitted that their statement below was based on false information. The company has since acknowledged that local editor Allison Esposito lifted the photo then lied about it to her editors. Here's the email Patch editor-in-chief sent to the New Rochelle blogger for Talk of the Sound Robert Cox, admitting the mistake.]

Yesterday in the nightly roundup, I mentioned a claim by a local blog in the New Rochelle, New York area that charged AOL’s Patch with plagiarism. Talk of the Sound managing editor Robert Cox wrote a post saying that the New Rochelle Patch editor Allison Esposito took photos from Talk of the Sound and published it on the Patch.

“As readers know, we like to publish a photo across the full column of most stories. In this case, I obtained the three mug shots from NRPD and then used Adobe Photoshop to make a single image containing all three mug shots, cropped, along with a caption indicating the names of each suspect,” wrote Cox. “As is plain from looking at the image file on AOL Patch, Ms. Esposito lifted that image from Talk of the Sound, chopped off the caption with the names and presented it as her own work.”

AOL Patch has responded to the claim. In an email from the Hudson Valley regional editor for Patch, Katie Ryan O’Connor said “Allison Esposito, did not plagiarize anything from Mr. Cox’s blog in any form.” She goes on to add that “The objects in question — police generated mug shots — are publicly available and any similarity to Mr. Cox’s presentation of those public images is purely coincidental. Linking mug shots together in Photoshop (in this case, apparently doing nothing more than placing three similar sized objects in a row) is standard operating procedure for news organizations everywhere.”

But that’s not all. Cox has made claims that Esposito, who worked as communications director for Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin in the New Rochelle area for about a year, is actually a “democratic political operative.” O’Connor brushes off that accusation as well.

“Here’s the truth: Like so many journalists faced with finding work in an industry that is shedding jobs at a rapid pace… Ms. Esposito took jobs in other fields that would utilize her writing and editing skills, most recently working as a communications director for Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin,” wrote O’Connor. “She held that position for only about 12 months. During an extensive interview process, Ms. Esposito made it clear her first and foremost passion was journalism and has been working to find her way back into a full-time reporting and editing position ever since.”

O’Connor added that Esposito makes her political past clear in her biography, and the site (which has only been live since last Thursday) has not published anything out of the ordinary for or against the current town administrators.

I’ve emailed Cox for a response, and will post if I hear back from him. But this sounds more like a turf war than anything else, and maybe what many of the Patch editors will have to get used to as they encroach on areas that already have an active and motivated blogging circle.

You can read the entire Patch response after the jump.

Our New Rochelle Patch local editor, Allison Esposito, did not plagiarize anything from Mr. Cox’s blog in any form.

The objects in question — police generated mug shots — are publicly available and any similarity to Mr. Cox’s presentation of those public images is purely coincidental. Linking mug shots together in Photoshop (in this case, apparently doing nothing more than placing three similar sized objects in a row) is standard operating procedure for news organizations everywhere.

His other criticisms of Patch are puzzling at best. I’ll try to address them point by point:
•    Mr. Cox alleges Ms. Esposito is a “democratic political operative.” Here’s the truth: Like so many journalists faced with finding work in an industry that is shedding jobs at a rapid pace (as many as 25 percent of all full-time newspaper positions have disappeared since 2001, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors), Ms. Esposito took jobs in other fields that would utilize her writing and editing skills, most recently working as a communications director for Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. She held that position for only about 12 months. During an extensive interview process, Ms. Esposito made it clear her first and foremost passion was journalism and has been working to find her way back into a full-time reporting and editing position ever since. Her work for Paulin is clearly stated in her biography for all readers to see — and more importantly, decide for themselves. Transparency is a key part of Patch’s mission, which is why our editors go above and beyond most disclosures by journalists by revealing key beliefs publicly, such as political leanings and religious views.
•    As for Mr. Cox’s assertion we have no interest in challenging the city administration, it’s worth noting this came after we had been live for less than three full days (one a Saturday) and appears based on two, maybe three routine features and two third-party reader comments. Patch is committed to the highest standards of public service journalism. We just exposed lead contamination at the Clarkstown police firing range when the town would have much preferred it stay quiet. Our Larchmont-Mamaroneck editor earlier this year uncovered an air gun incident in Rye Neck schools that appeared to have been significantly underplayed to parents and we recently revealed a parking funds scandal in Port Chester. Our extensive coverage of the death of two local firefighters in Tarrytown continues and now investigations have shown the town workers did not follow protocol for sewer problems. Mr. Cox may have also forgotten I edited the New Rochelle report for The Journal News when city residents bitterly fought a plan to establish an outpost of the Swedish furniture giant IKEA — and won. Our aggressive reporting earned my team an Associated Press award. We proudly invite anyone to fairly judge our work — readers do everyday.
•    Mr. Cox alleges in his initial posting on the Journalism that Matters Google group here that a story we wrote on a church fire was “based on information” from his site. Also completely false. (And I was curious why Mr. Cox does not include this secondary allegation on his own blog.) In reading both stories, I’m just not sure how to respond. There is simply no similarity between our story and his very brief blog posting. Unless he means that when his brief says the church was “undergoing a remodeling” (no attribution) and our story says, “The church appeared as if it is currently in the process of being renovated, according to Fire Commissioner Raymond ‘Doc’ Kiernan,” that it constitutes some sort of borrowing. Unless he posted something else, the item that ran under the headline “Lightening (sic) Strikes Cross on New Rochelle Steeple…” bears no resemblance to what we ran. Here is his story. Here is ours.

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