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The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Larry Muhammad liked my thoughts enough to quote me, but not mention me

The Courier-Journal’s Larry Muhammad quoted me four times today but didn’t include my name or a link to my original article

In the first five paragraphs of “An iced coffee war is brewing” in today’s Louisville Courier-Journal, Larry Muhammad quoted one of my articles for Louisville.com, “Navigating Bardstown Road’s non-Starbucks coffee culture,” four times.

But you won’t see my name anywhere in Muhammad’s story.

Nor does it link back to my original piece, which would make it clear who the author was. For attribution, Muhammad just mentions Louisville.com. Once.

(And judging by the hypertext ads in Muhammad’s story, the Courier-Journal does know how to code links.)

It’s not plagiarism, but it’s not journalism at its best either.

It was easier for the Courier-Journal to revise my quotes than to acknowledge my existence

My article (on the subject of Day’s Espresso & Coffee):

the best iced latte of the bunch (and tied with M.E. Swing in Washington, DC, for the best iced latte I’ve ever had, anywhere)

My article, as quoted by Larry Muhammad:

the best iced latte of the bunch and tied with M.E. Swing in Washington, D.C., for the best iced latte ever had, anywhere.

Notice the difference (other than the removal of the parentheses)? Muhammad or his editors removed “I’ve.” I’ve two big problems with that deletion:

  • Someone decided it was easier to delete “I’ve” from the quote than to be bothered with better attribution.
  • Day’s and Swing are great, but there’s a damn good chance in the long history of the tasty refreshing caffeinated beverage that better lattes have been consumed.

Citing just the publication is fine for a news story, but not for an opinion piece

I wouldn’t be upset if the Courier-Journal had quoted a news article I wrote and left out my name: in a hard news story, the writer should be irrelevant.

But there are types of reporting where the writer is central to the piece, for example

  • original investigative reporting (there’s a reason we all know who Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are)
  • feature articles where the reporter gets involved with the subject matter (such as Gay Talese’s excellent piece for Esquire, “Frank Sinatra has a cold“)
  • opinion pieces, such as op-ed columns or reviews

Louisville.com did not consume any iced lattes. I did (a lot of them in fact). There was no internal poll of Louisville.com employees’ opinions. As my article made clear, the assessment was completely mine.

One quote without full attribution might be ok, but four of them?

If Muhammad quoted one line of mine and attributed it to just Louisville.com, I might have been ok with it.

But four of my lines–and the best non-offensive ones of my original article? That’s relying a bit too much on someone else’s work to omit who that someone else is.

It’s not semantics: iced lattes are not “coffee on the rocks”

And one other gripe, my review covered iced lattes, not iced coffees: “all assessments of drinks are based on iced skim lattes.”

Muhammad wrote, “Louisville.com’s top pick of Highlands-area coffee-on-the-rocks purveyors…is the 15-year-old Day’s Espresso & Coffee.”

I rarely drink iced coffee (it isn’t strong enough to address my caffeine addiction). I’ve never had an iced coffee at Day’s and, as such, didn’t claim that it was the best in the Highlands.

Calling an iced latte an iced coffee? That’s like calling Louisville Shelbyville. (Feel free to borrow that line too Courier-Journal, at least with this domain name I’ll receive credit for it.)

Update Aug. 11, 2009: A now-ex-manager of Lynn’s Paradise Cafe said Muhammad’s article on coffee shops caused her to be fired. Read Brossart’s comment on this post and then check out The Ville Voice’s post, “This is more about context than coffee” for details.

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4 Responses to The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Larry Muhammad liked my thoughts enough to quote me, but not mention me

  1. Brossart August 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    You are notthe only person he did wrong when writing this article. He called Lynns Paradise Cafe asking If thy were a coffee shop. I said no and told him to call our “pr” person to get more information about our coffee. He pressed me information and I told him what we offered. He did not tell me he was going to quote me and then MISS-QUOTED me. This miss quote for his sloppy and un professional article cost me my job at that restaurant. After two and a half years I was fired because of a lazy journalist

  2. Dutchman August 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

    Comon! I can’t believe that Zach would even hint or suggest that LM of the CJ did not give him proper attribution and through clever writing of his own distorts what LM did in the first place. How clever? It reads like a complaint of plagiarism—”to steal and pass of ideas without crediting the source” (Webster’s dictionary) He claims some kind of journalistic sin by invoking W&B of the Washington Post. He writes in a headline: “Larry Muhammad liked my thoughts enough to quote me, but not mention me.” Let’s breakdown the complaint: LM gave full atrribution and credit to his blog which is where the quote came from. So what’s the sin? Apparently he did cite Zach by name and perhaps degrees, where he lives, and credentials. I guess the New York Times should stop saying the White House said today and NBC news found are journalistic blunders as well. What an ego! My God!
    Another attack on LM is that they list his facebook page and guess what those facebooks pages are not even LM! Thank you Derby House Expresso and where is your name next to your quote? Third, back to the original article LM was exonerated that the quote was indeed accurate.
    Good for LM not running to Lynn’s PR bureau for a quote and getting it off the floor who serves the coffee! What’s sad is these posts in a time where many at the CJ are getting fired, let go and forced into retirement unfairly throws gasoline on LM reputation who has a long distinguished record of honest and fair journalism at the CJ and several other national publications. He is also a playright who has been featured at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. But perhaps the bashing is about hatred of LM for having a Muslim name? Funny thing too like Mark Twain, he also writes under another name as well with even greater success outside the CJ. So Zach chill down with some coffee on the rocks because if LM called it anything else you would probably claim you invented those words too. The good news about LM piece is he gives a nice shout out to indy coffee houses and a nice quote from an unknwon blog run by Zach. So what do we learn from Zach’s rant: avoid mentioning the blog post of Zach and for God sakes don’t interview a waitress on a story about ice coffee or whatever you want to call it.

  3. Zach August 12, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    Dutchman, at the beginning of this post I wrote “It’s not plagiarism,” so I don’t see how there can be any confusion about that point. I also explain why in some cases it’s ok to cite just the publication whereas in others the author should be mentioned.

    And Derby City Espresso’s comment wasn’t an “attack on LM,” but rather an observation, I believe, about this website’s good standing with search engines–namely that this post is the first result that appears in Google when searching for “Larry Muhammad.” (I did nothing beyond how I promote all of my work online to make that the case.)

    Finally, as someone who supported Barack Hussein Obama with money, time, and a vote, I assure you that none of my criticism has anything to do with Muhammad’s name.

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