COLUMN: Using other's words speaks to credibility

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By Ben Carlson

Column as I see ’em ...

I promise that every word in this column was typed by my fingers in concert with the organic word processor I store beneath my hair.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said about some information on judge-executive hopeful Donna Drury’s campaign website, where she claims to have gained permission to post, without any attribution whatsoever, the words of other writers.

I call it a shame because some of what’s written there is solid material upon which a candidate could base a good election campaign.

It’s a shame, too, because it shows she’s out there trolling the web for good thoughts and ideas that could potentially help Anderson County.

Nevertheless, aside from accepting money or gifts in return for favorable news coverage, nothing in my profession is more deplorable than the realization that someone has used another’s words and passed them off as their own.

Some folks who earn a living chained to a keyboard labor mightily over every word they churn out. They equate the process of writing to a mental form of childbirth that leaves them exhausted and mentally spent.

As my regular readers might have by now discerned, I’m not at all that way. I can crank out hard news, features and opinion pieces with relative ease. Rather than leave me exhausted, cranking out a juicy news story or (in my mind, at least) a humorous column leaves me feeling like I’ve just chugged a quart of one of those energy potions and I’m looking for more.

But does that mean I want some schmoe ripping off what I’ve written? Not at all. While this has always come fairly easily to me — folks who know me say reading my work is eerily like listening to me speak — I’d be ready to fistfight or footrace anyone who even considered stealing what I’ve written.

Heck, I don’t even like it when what I’ve written proves too long for its available space and I have to trim it. That act I’ve always internalized as killing my babies (the corny phrase I’ve privately attached to the words I’ve written).

While kicking around what to do with this issue, my staff and I shared what I consider some interesting takes on the topic.

The discussion began — as most news-related conversations do — with the question of this even being a news story. We quickly decided that it is, then tried to gauge how much interest there’d be with our readers.

One school of thought was that because of what we do, we are likely much more sensitive to others using our words without attribution than others. Another was that even if the first thought were true, the takeaway from our readers will likely center on it being more of an overall credibility issue.

I’d say the latter is more accurate, because while we’d like to think that what our politicians put out there for our consumption is their own, finding out otherwise makes us question everything they say.

Speaking of reader interest, I’m not sure how much there is regarding my yet-to-be-resolved issue with the school board.

For those just climbing aboard, I’ve taken the board to task over the way its screening committee conducted itself when selecting finalists for a new superintendent.

I wrote a formal complaint, and the school board’s attorney mailed a response last week, flatly denying anything was amiss.

No surprise there, really, so my next step is to get this in front of the attorney general and let him weigh in with what I hope will be a final opinion.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but my overall goal is to answer the question of the names of finalists for superintendent being public or private, which is an issue each time it comes up in Kentucky. Some boards freely (and properly, I might add) release those names. Others, like ours, don’t.

Stay tuned.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.