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.