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Gawker: New Yorker whiz kid Jonah Lehrer steals from himself; others

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Double Down, Jun 20, 2012.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I thought this was interesting, especially since Lehrer's star has been on the rise.

    Should The New Yorker fire him? Either from recycling his own stuff, or because he gave only a passing mention to the Norman Mclean book "Young Men and Fire" but used details from it like they were his own in a New Yorker piece? (Still a little unclear how that slipped past the most rigorous fact-checking in magazines.) Maybe The New Yorker just didn't mind the Maclean stuff.

  2. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Obviously, stars get protected by media organizations, so we'll see how big a star Lehrer is.
  3. Ben_Hecht

    Ben_Hecht Active Member

    But . . . but . . . but . . . he's an IDEA MAN!!!!! . . .
  4. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    The excuse-making has already begun. From Slate:

    Given that continuous cycle of creation and reuse, blogging seems to have been a bad idea for Jonah Lehrer. A blog is merciless, requiring constant bursts of insight. In populating his New Yorker blog with large swaths of his old work, Lehrer didn’t just break a rule of journalism. By repurposing an old post on why we don’t believe in science, he also unscrewed the cap on his brain, revealing that it’s currently running on the fumes emitted by back issues of Wired. For Lehrer and The New Yorker, the best prescription is to shut down Frontal Cortex and give him some time to come up with some fresh ideas. The man’s brain clearly needs a break.

    Ah yes. The old "my brain is tired" line. Works every time.

    I don't disagree with their take on blogging, but I think the 100 percent rate of reuse/recycling is a pretty good indication that the guy never had any problem with doing this in the first place.
  5. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I will buy the writer turned idea-er.
    But ...
    You can retell a story from now until death; just don’t republish it disguised as original thought (to the reader and your employer). That’s ethically villainous.
  6. I didn't get excuse-making from that. I thought it was more along the lines of saying, "It's a tough grind, the guy got caught up in it and now he needs to step away and evaluate what he's doing along with The New Yorker."
  7. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    You ask yourself how you failed to catch on to what the Lehrer kid was doing. To properly assess this question will require vast amounts of Bolivian Marching Powder.
  8. jackfinarelli

    jackfinarelli Well-Known Member

    Is this a question of ethics or expectations? The concept of plagiarizing from oneself becomes a circular argument at some point. Consider:

    If you go to see Lewis Black - - just to pick one stand-up comic that everyone will recognize - - do a show, do you expect to hear brand new material? If were to go to see Lewis Black a half-dozen times in six different cities in a six-month period of time, do you still expect to hear brand new material each and every time? If you do, would you accuse Mr. Black of "stealing jokes from himself"?

    If an author writes something original - - I say that because there cannot be any question about the legitimacy of the "first appearance" of his words - - why can he/she not repeat what he/she wrote at some later date?

    I completely understand why stealing material from another author is intolerable and I understand the need for sourcing. However, sourcing something to oneself could nudge up against an appearance of blatant narcissism.

    I am not trying to start a fight here; I would really like to understand this better.
  9. Kato

    Kato Well-Known Member

    I'd like to understand this better, too. ...

    When I read this, I thought of Tom Friedman. When he wrote the book "The World Is Flat," it seemed every one of his columns for the next year was not only based on the reporting for that book but also used the term "the world is flat."

    Was there more original reporting done for those columns? Were they updated to more newsy and relavant happenings, compared to when he wrote the book? Or was it simply rehashing of what he had done while writing the book?

    I know I have done blog posts, often postgame ones following coverage of a game and turned those or parts of those into longer columns for the paper later in the week. Am I stealing from myself?
  10. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I think it's probably most likely a case of the The New Yorker being pissed they're paying for recycled material here, at least as far as the "self-plagiarism" charge. (I still don't know how the borrowing of Chomsky quotes or lifting of Norman Mclean material plays out, but let's just address the vaguer ethical issue here.)

    If you're The New Yorker and you're paying Lehrer, say, $150,000 a year (from what I understand, the magazine doesn't pay particular well compared to other titans in journalism; the prestige is supposedly designed to make up the difference so let's not quibble over the dollar figure), aren't you doing so under the expectation that you're paying for original thoughts? That you're giving Lehrer money so that he'll bang his head against his desk and, with his brilliant mind, offer up something into public domain that's never been discussed before in a new and interesting way? A magazine is different than a comedy show in that you're trying to inform and educate on weekly basis, not simply entertain. The expectations of the audience are much different.

    Whether you think it's haughty or not, The New Yorker really is the pinnacle of print journalism. You rise to that platform because you're supposedly better than the other 99.9 percent of people out there writing for a living. I can see how the magazine would be upset, and feel like their own standards were compromised.
  11. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    This is the bottom line to me. It is unethical to recycle material for a different publication and be paid for it again. This is not really an issue of plagiarism, because it is the writer's original material, but ethics.
  12. jackfinarelli

    jackfinarelli Well-Known Member

    Interesting you mention Tom Friedman. When he was writing "the world is flat..." twice a week, I thought that was brilliant subliminal marketing for his book. It never occurred to me that all he was doing was "recycling material".

    Along the same line, at what point does some phrase enter common usage so thoroughly that it need no more reference? "Tipping point" would my example here...
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