The South Portland-Cape Elizabeth (Maine) Sentry fired a reporter for plagiarizing stories on "South Portland city meetings" from both the Forecaster and Current, the Forecaster reported.
The Sentry is a weekly newspaper. According to the website of its parent company, Mainely Media, the newspaper goes to 13,500 homes. The Forecaster is a Sun Media Group-owned newspaper with a circulation of 70,000 copies that is published four times a week, according to the newspaper's editor Mo Mehlsak. Current is a Current Publishing-owned newspaper with a circulation of 12,000 copies, according to Mondo Times.
According to the Forecaster, Michael J. Tobin plagiarized from four Forecaster stories and from Current stories. He also "took information [the Forecaster's Mario Moretto] paraphrased and used it as quoted material from sources Tobin had not interviewed."
The Sentry published a "message from publisher" about the incident, noting that the reporter "violated that code of ethics by plagiarizing" in the newspaper's Feb. 24 edition. Besides lifting quotes, Tobin "essentially gave the readers the impression that he was present at a meeting that he did not attend," the note said.
The Sentry did not name Tobin in its note. See the note above, or here on the Sentry's front page.
His plagiarism was first spotted by South Portland's city manager Jim Gailey, according to the Forecaster. Gailey "began noticing that Tobin's articles contained information and quotes that originated in city workshops as far back as November that the Sentry reporter had not attended," the Forecaster reported.
The Forecaster reported that Tobin "admitted he copied content from his competitors, but" didn't see it as a problem. Tobin is quoted as saying: “I didn't copy whole stories. I cut and pasted things that were public knowledge, and not what one newspaper got." The Forecaster countered that argument, noting that Tobin lifted some "lead paragraphs...which typically analyze and sum up issues."
According to the Forecaster, Tobin had "no prior newswriting experience" before being hired by the Sentry last year.
We wrote to Tobin asking if he had any further comment concerning this incident. He told iMediaEthics by e-mail:
"I explained myself in the article. I am deeply sorry for my error and have paid for it dearly by losing my job and reputation. I never went to school for journalism, I never worked as a reporter before. The paper I worked for had only one reporter for each newspaper it represented and I was responsible for a whole paper. I was sick with bronchitis and an infection, I was beyond stressed with deadlines. There had been a huge turnover at the paper and I was wearing too many hats, beyond stressed and not knowing all the rules and regulations of my job, I made an error and have paid for it."
The Forecaster's editor, Mo Mehlsak, told iMediaEthics by e-mail: "We were disappointed that anyone working for a news organization would fail to understand that plagiarism is wrong, and satisfied with the Sentry's timely and appropriate response."
Current's managing editor Ben Bragdon told iMediaEthics by e-mail:
"The Sentry did the right thing by swiftly firing the reporter. However, the publisher's note printed in this week's edition failed to acknowledge the content copied from The Current and only cited the Feb. 24 incident discussed in the Forecaster article. With only limited research, we have found at least one other instance of wholesale plagiarism on the part of the reporter. We informed the Sentry of the second story earlier this week and expected they would take responsibility. They have not."
Bragdon sent iMediaEthics links to the second case he referenced. In that case, the Sentry's Tobin lifted direct quotes and sentences without attribution from The Current's article published a week earlier. Current's article was published February 8, 2012 at 5:45 AM (see here). The Sentry's Tobin's Feb. 17 article was published at 2:33 PM EST article (see here). The article also lifts from this Feb. 9 article from the Forecaster. Below we have side-by-side comparison and an image with highlighted text..
We highlighted this Sentry article in yellow for verbatim content from Current and in red for verbatim content from the Forecaster.
Yellow highlighted material is from Current. Red highlighted material is from the Forecaster.
See below some examples of content lifted from Current in the Sentry's article. We have added bolding to show verbatim content.
The Sentry, Feb. 17: "The Ocean Street project, a $1.44 million utility upgrade that includes sewer separation and catch basin removal, new gas mains, new water mains, sidewalk improvements, landscape enhancements and paving, will force the reconstruction of 1,300 feet of Cottage Road and Ocean Street from April to September."
Current, Feb. 8: "At issue is a $1.44 million utility upgrade that will force the reconstruction of 1,300 feet of Cottage Road and Ocean Street from April to September."
Sentry: "Smaha said people aren’t going to carry their groceries two or three blocks. 'It’s not going to happen,' he said."
Current: "People aren't going to carry their bags of groceries two or three blocks. It's just not going to happen," said Smaha."
Sentry: "The current parking configuration has been in place since the late 1990s, when the Casco Bay Bridge replaced the old Million Dollar Bridge, altering traffic patterns in Knightville. Those who spoke Monday were not anxious to see a return to previous parking alignments."
Current: "That configuration has been in place since the late 1990s, when the Casco Bay Bridge replaced the old Million Dollar Bridge, altering traffic patterns in Knightville. Those who spoke Monday were not anxious to see a return to previous parking alignments."
Sentry: "Even with a major reduction of combined sewer overflow points in recent years – from more than 20 to six – more than 14 million gallons of raw sewage spills into Casco Bay each year, because the sewer system cannot always handle storm water surges."
Current: "Even with a major reduction of "combined sewer overflow" points in recent years - from more than 20 to just six - more than 14 million gallons of raw sewage spills into Casco Bay each year, because the sewer system cannot always handle stormwater surges."
Sentry: "Following a water main break in front of the post office last summer, the city decided that, as long as the streets were dug up, Unitil should get a chance to upgrade its gas lines, while the Portland Water District would replace its 8-inch water mains, some of which date to 1892.
"However, while those details have been known for months, business owners say they were shocked to learn of a new wrinkle following a Jan. 23 council workshop."
“That was the first we’d heard of plans to reconfigure downtown parking spaces,” Higgins said.
Current: "However, the initial scope grew following a water main break in front of the post office last summer. It was decided that, as long as the streets were dug up, Unitil should get a chance to upgrade its gas lines, while the Portland Water District would replace its 8-inch water mains, some of which date to 1892."
However, while those details have been known for months, the business owners say they were shocked to learn of a new wrinkle following a Jan. 23 council workshop. That, they say, was the first they'd heard of plans to reconfigure downtown parking spaces.
We have written to the Sentry for more information and comment and will update with any response.
UPDATED: 3/1/2012 1:59 PM EST: Added comments from The Forecaster to iMediaEthics
UPDATED: 3/1/2012 2:25 PM EST: Added comments from Current to iMediaEthics
UPDATED: 3/1/2012: 2:50 PM EST: Added information about second instance of plagiarism.
UPDATED: 3/1/2012: 3:27 PM EST: Added image
UPDATED: 3/2/2012 12:00 PM EST: Added response from Tobin.