Poynter’s Craig Silverman and Andrew Beaujon highlighted a shocking case of plagiarism by a former North Dakota Newspaper Association president, Jon Flatland.
Flatland “has been exposed as a serial plagiarist,” according to Poynter, which noted that humor writer Dave Fox spotted his own work plagiarized by Flatland. Fox then searched Flatland’s previous work and found that Flatland repeatedly plagiarized “80 to 90 percent” of his work.
Flatland’s plagiarized work was published by North Dakota’s the Benson County Farmers Press, the Steele County Times and others. He plagiarized from Fox, and writers from the Carroll County Times and the Dallas Morning News among other writers, Poynter noted. According to Park Rapids Enterprise, the plagiarism goes “back to at least 1995.”
Fox wrote March 8 about this noting that he found the plagiarism “purely by accident.” Of the incident, he wrote: “It is troubling when a rookie reporter plagiarizes the work of others. For a 28-year newspaper veteran to do so as habitually and brazenly as Flatland did is unfathomable.”
In certain cases, Flatland altered the plagiarized work to “localize” by dropping “his wife’s name” or the city’s name to whatever work he lifted, according to Poynter’s reports.
The National Society of Newspaper Columnists’s Charles Memminger wrote March 8 about the plagiarism, noting that Fox “discovered that just about all of the humor columns Flatland claimed to have written for two newspapers he owed — the Steele County Press in Finley, N.D., and the Griggs County Courier in Cooperstown, N.D. — and other Midwest newspapers had been plagiarized from columnists across the United States, including at least one of mine entitled ‘Language Laws Leave Us Speechless,’ which was published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on Nov. 8, 1999, and on Nov. 1, 2005.”
Flatland resigned from his position as the Blooming Prairie Times’ “interim managing editor” and “has not responded to any of the people currently trying to reach him for comment and and explanation,” according to Poynter’s original report. Mondo Times reports that the Blooming Prairie Times is a weekly newspaper with a circulation of about 1,000 copies.
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The Blooming Prairie Times published a March note in which it noted that “no one else at this newspaper had any knowledge of what he had been doing.” The note read in part:
“Upon further investigation, The Times discovered virtually nothing in Flatland’s weekly columns is his own original work. After doing some digging, we discovered Flatland makes a weekly habit of ripping off humor columns from a wide range of other writers-from independent bloggers to columnists at major daily newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News.”
The Blooming Prairie Times noted that “it is believed” Flatland plagiarized the column that he won “most humourous column” award from North Dakota Newspaper Association. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists added that the column “actually was written by humor writer Jason Offutt and posted at the Foolish Times website on May 1, 2008.”
The AP reported that Flatland said of the plagiarism: “apparently I did but not to the extent they’re saying.” He also said “I’m definitely out of the newspaper business.”
In a follow-up post, Poynter noted that Flatland had previously been fired “in the ’90s” for plagiarism while working at the (North Dakota) Cavalier County Republican.
We have written to the Blooming Prairie Times and will update with any response.