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Reuters unpublished this article after it was questioned by the Guardian over similarities. (Credit: Reuters, screenshot)

Reuters “withdrew” a story about Chechen author Polina Zherebtzova after Guardian reporter Miriam Elder questioned its originality, Ad Week reported. While both Reuters’ Alissa de Carbonnel and the Guardian’s Miriam Elder interviewed Zherebtzova, the articles contain very similar phrasing and some identical phrases.

Elder tweeted :  “Wow. Thanks to @Reuters for at least changing a few of the words from my story http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/27/russia-book-chechnya-idUSL5E7LR3KC20111027 (original: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/30/second-chechen-war-teenagers-diary)”

Ad Week noted that “no official charges of plagiarism have been made thus far, and the reason for the similarities isn’t fully clear yet.”

According to Ad Week, a Thomson Reuters spokesperson said it was “looking into the matter.” Later, Reuters pulled the story.  Ad Week published from an “internal email” from Reuters editor Ralph Boulton explaining that the story was pulled “because, though it included original reporting, it is too similar to a piece already published by The Guardian on the same subject to be appropriate for publication. No substitute story will be issued.”

Elder’s article, “The second Chechen war: a Grozny teenager’s diary” was published by the Guardian Sept. 30.   Alissa de Carbonnel’s article, “Chechen teen diary a bitter tale of bombs & survival” was published by Reuters Oct. 27 (and unpublished Oct. 28).  StinkyJournalism notes that while Reuters has unpublished its U.S. web version of the story (the link now re-directs to a “Page Not Found” notice), Reuters’ Indian version still hosts the story in question.

Both stories started with the same first seven words:  “Polina Zherebtsova was 14 when the bombs…”

StinkyJournalism’s review found numerous phrasing similarities in reporting the same content.  For example, both reports couple threats against Zherebtzova and her search for a publisher:

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  • From the Guardian: “Despite death threats and fears for her safety, Zherebtsova published Polina Zherebtsova’s Diary.”
  • From Reuters: “Facing down threats and fears for her safety since she began looking for a publisher four years ago

Also:

  • From the Guardian: “One by one, publishing houses refused to publish the book.”
  • From Reuters: “Publishers praised but one after the other refused to print the diary”

Both news stories similarly describe Zherebtsova’s hair as well.

  • From the Guardian: “Zherebtsova, 26, said, her dyed blonde fringe peeking out from under a headscarf…”
  • From Reuters: “Zherebtsova said, her bleach-blond fringes peeping out from a pink and turquoise head scarf…”

The two articles also similarly describe Zherebtsova’s fears:

  • From the Guardian: “The fear of death in war has now been replaced with the fear that writing about the horrors of Chechnya – a still taboo subject – will bring repercussions.”
  • From Reuters: ” A new fear has replaced the flashbacks that still haunt her — that her drive to tell her story will bring harm to her or her husband.”

And, both stories similarly present Zherebtsova’s discovery of her publisher:

  • From the Guardian: “Last autumn, she finally found a saviour in Detektiv-Press, a small publisher devoted mainly to history books and memoirs.”
  • From Reuters “Last autumn, she finally found Detektiv Press, a boutique publisher of biographies and history books, that printed a small run of 2,000 books on sale in Moscow this month.”

And, one more example:

  • From the Guardian:  “Zherebtsova takes great pains to paint her family as ethnically mixed, and in the book describes how she is mainly Russian on her mother’s side, and Chechen on her father’s, although she never knew him.”
  • From Reuters: “Desperate to not take sides, Zherebstova is at great pains to portray herself as ethnically mixed, though she inherits a Slavic-sounding last name from her mother’s side of the family.”

iMediaEthics has written to Elder and Reuters for comment and will update with any response.

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Reuters Unpublishes Chechen Author Story after Guardian Journalist Questions Similarities

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