Atlas Blogged

Note: An update was added to this post on January 18. It can be found at the bottom of the post.

As far as I know, Paul Hamilton does not play for the Buffalo Sabres. He’s a reporter for WGR 550. He’s been in that role for a very long time and is well respected by both fans and those in the media. He’s the guy with “the facts to back up his opinions.”

I also know that Thomas Vanek is neither an employee of WGR 550 nor is he writing a personal blog for their web site. He’s a hockey player for the Buffalo Sabres and scored 26 goals last season.

So it’s a little confusing when a new article appears on WGR’s website entitled, “Sabres Vanek blogs about Hodgson and Grigorenko.” Pay no mind to the lack of possession in the headline. That’s not the issue at hand.

The article was posted by Paul Hamilton, meaning that he is the author of the post. Cool. He writes articles for the website all the time.

Hamilton Cap 1

The “Buffalo, NY (WGR 550)” indicator would even lead you to believe that what’s coming next is original reporting. That dateline is probably automatically generated anyway and designed to go on every published article, so let’s not stress too much about that.

“Finally, there’s Sabres hockey again!” Hamilton writes in the opening paragraph. He sure sounds excited. He even used an exclamation point.

He continues, “Well, the first day of our short training camp is over and I’m feeling quite good. Of course, I’m not in the same shape as I was after my stint with Graz, the break until now was just too long for that.”

Hamilton Cap 3

This is where we stop and raise a brow. “Our short training camp?” “I’m feeling quite good?” I know Paul used to play hockey and he’s probably not as fit as he was in his 20s, but when did Paul play for Graz? And the “our” thing is very bizarre. He doesn’t play or work for the team. In all of the other articles he’s ever written, the Sabres were always referred to as “the Sabres” or “the team.” Professional, third person objective stuff.

Looking back at the headline, though, “Vanek blogs.” Oh. So these are Thomas Vanek’s words and WGR used Paul’s account to post them. Maybe I missed some kind of announcement for that news. An introduction would have been nice, but it’s interesting to see the forward writing exclusively for the team’s official radio affiliate.

Except that he’s not.

Thomas Vanek maintains his own website and occasionally writes a blog post for it. Whether he physically sat down and typed the words or not isn’t important. Those words are attributed to his personal brand and they are his.

Let’s take a look at what Vanek blogged about recently on his website, ThomasVanek.at.

Vanek Cap 1

Huh. Those look a lot like the words Hamilton wrote, don’t they? Like word for word.

In the WGR article attributed to Paul Hamilton, there is no mention that Vanek wrote those words on his own site. There’s no reference link back to the original site. None of Hamilton’s own words are in his own article.

He copied Vanek’s words and pasted them into a WGR blog post without crediting the original source. Hamilton presents exactly zero original thoughts in this article.

That’s plagiarism.

I tweeted about it and after a few replies from the Twitterverse, I received a reply from Mike Schopp, co-host of WGR’s afternoon show.

Using “surely” in that sense in what reads like a defense of the article demonstrates that it isn’t exactly clear.

Blaming the program used to post articles is like complaining about a toilet on the Titanic being flooded as the boat starts to capsize. The Content Management System that WGR uses isn’t the issue here. The issue is the station’s lead beat report lifting someone’s thoughts from another source and posting them word for word in as his own original report without any attribution or context.

The headline doesn’t count as attribution. The headline makes it sound like Vanek is blogging for WGR.

A quick “Hey, Thomas Vanek wrote this on his site” with a link to the article wouldn’t suffice if Vanek’s entire article is still posted on WGR’s site.

What might have been OK?

Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek took to the blog on his personal website on Monday to talk about what he’s seen from teammates Cody Hodgson and Mikhail Grigorenko.

Vanek seemed excited to start the season on a line with Hodgson and captain Jason Pominville. Last season, Vanek and Pominville played together for most of the year and developed good chemistry early on.

From Vanek’s blog:

I’ve always played well with Pominville and I ended the last season with Hodgson on a pretty high note. He’s a right hander, but can dish the puck to both sides great. I’m really glad that I have him back as center.

Fans are excited about 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko and what he can bring to the Sabres this year. It’s going to be interesting to see if he’s even going to make the team or play out the season with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Vanek wrote this about the 18-year-old center:

I can’t really say much about Grigorenko, as we only had one practice. But what I can say is: Boy, is he big. And he can move! It’s like watching Tyler Ennis skate, only four heads bigger. I’m sure he’ll be a great asset in the future.

The Sabres open the season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. You can hear the game right here on WGR 550.

Is that pretty bland? Heck yes. Could you add some personality and other tidbits or trivia to that in order to spice it up? Of course. And you should.

Look at any blog or website that frequently uses other sources to generate content. Puck Daddy, for example, will pull from multiple outlets for any given story they publish, but you’ll never see them copy and paste an entire article from an outside source. They wouldn’t do that even with an explanation. And that’s the right way to do it.

Hamilton taking the words of Vanek’s blogs and posting them verbatim on WGR’s site would be no different than him copying this entire post and pasting it on WGR’s site, or an article from the Buffalo News without permission or attribution. The words and thoughts don’t belong to him.

And if Hamilton did receive permission from Vanek before republishing that blog post, it should be made clear right from the start.

People go to WGR 550’s site to find out what’s going on in the Buffalo sports scene and to read the stories and opinions filed by reporters and personalities they know and trust. Paul’s work over the years has earned him the trust of fans, but stealing from a player’s website violates that trust and makes everyone who works for that company look bad. Obviously no one edited the article for content or even looked it over before it was published.

That’s embarrassing. This situation is a black eye for a station that usually puts out interesting and debate-worthy content and has also earned the trust of many, many sports fans.

It’s easy to feign ignorance when it comes to new media. However, this isn’t about Internet etiquette or complicated web publishing portals. It’s about journalistic integrity and ethical behavior. In my eyes, the credibility of Paul Hamilton and WGR 550 took a major hit today.

As of 4:50 p.m., no corrections or edits have been made to Hamilton’s article.

Hamilton Cap 2

Strong take, “Paul.”

UPDATE:

Paul Hamilton responded on Twitter last night. I’m not sure if he read the post, but here’s part of the conversation that transpired:

As of 5:30 p.m. on Friday, still no changes have been made to Hamilton’s original post. Paul’s not a writer, but someone over at WGR 550 should be editing posts and making sure they are acceptable.

If WGR does in fact have permission to republish Vanek’s blog post, a disclaimer at the top should be there and say something like, “The following was originally posted at ThomasVanek.at and has been republished here with Thomas Vanek’s permission. The original article can be found here.”

That’s it. The presentation of the article currently on WGR’s site is still misleading. We’ll see if anything changes.

One Comment

  1. Sean Murphy

    The sad part is that is you or another blogger ever did that, the media would destroy you. Paul Hamilton is better than that and one of the few at WGR that I still respect. Oh well. Keep fighting the good fight.