I’m going to go so like totally beyond the ultimate daredevil move here — I’m going to agree publicly with my boss.
I’ve been waiting almost 38 years for an editor to tell readers that other media steal our stories and pass them off as their own work.
As editor Margo Goodhand wrote Saturday, the area’s largest newspaper is the main source of information — other media plagiarize that information and present it as their own work.
When I arrived at The Woodstock-Ingersoll Daily Sentinel-Review in October of 1971 to write sports on my first day in the business, I watched as the city editor clipped stories from that morning’s London Free Press and distributed them among reporters, to be rewritten for the afternoon edition and claimed as the S-R’s own work. Only a few months before. when I was still in university, that would have been called plagiarism, and would have resulted in an F in the course, if not expulsion. In the S-R newsroom, it was a daily procedure.
The London Freeps operated one-reporter bureaus in Woodstock, St. Thomas, Stratford, Goderich, Chatham, and Sarnia, each reporter responsible for an entire county. Wayne would come up with several Woodstock and Oxford County stories each day in the Freeps, which the S-R didn’t have.
That admission may seem somewhat gracious and honest on my part, but it will become one of my typically self-serving comments in a few paragraphs.
While the S-R may have been beaten on several stories each day, the papers’ different deadlines and publication schedules gave the Woodstock paper several hours each morning to get the London Free Press stories into that afternoon’s papers, as though the S-R had been everywhere, and talked to everyone, as the lone Freeps reporter had done the afternoon and evening before.
But while the S-R plagiarized from the Freeps, each afternoon around 2:45 p.m. a radio reporter would make the short walk from the studio on Dundas Street to our reception desk around the corner on Brock, to buy a paper hot off the press and read it on the 3 p.m. newscast, trying not to rustle the paper as he read those stories we’d managed to generate ourselves.
One time I took a brief pause in working my typical S-R 18-hour day without overtime, and suggested to the publisher that we prepare a fake newspaper to give to the Woodstock radio station. He looked at me with all the contempt he could muster — I’d actually proposed something that would cost money to do.
A couple of years on, and I became the S-R bureau chief in Ingersoll, responsible for a full page each day of news from Ingersoll. And Thamesford, as I recall, and Beachville sometimes. Ingersoll was a town of 7,000 about nine miles further down the 401 towards LondonOnt, and known for being the home of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and for Mayor Gord Henry, who managed the big cheese plant in town and fancied himself a character by giving visitors an Oh Henry bar. This one time, when he tried to give one to Prince Philip — but I digress.
The Ingersoll weekly came out Wednesdays, and with the exception of Tuesdays, the weekly reporter would show up at meetings and events, and smirk at me that he’d only have to take a photo and go home, and just take my story out of the S-R the next day. And publish it in the Ingersoll weekly as his own work. Since the weekly went to press Tuesday nights, he had to do his own work Tuesdays, or else wait a week to plagiarize whatever I reported in Wednesday’s paper.
When I became city editor of the Woodstock-Ingersoll paper in 1974, I decreed that no longer would we plagiarize from the London Free Press. I’d assign the stories we didn’t have, but told reporters to call the people in the story, be honest and up-front by telling them that we were chasing the story in that morning’s Freeps, confirm what was in there, and then get additional information and develop the story into something vaguely and superficially new — actually doing some of our own work.
I graduated to the big leagues with the London Freeps in 1975, going to the Perth County bureau in Stratford.
Now it was my turn to see my stories being printed each afternoon in the Stratford daily.
It was excruciatingly gruelling work for the Stratford reporters, in that era when copy-and-paste from a website was a Star Trek fantasy. My colleagues at the local daily had to crank up a manual typewriter and type out each of my stories word by word, sometimes moving "she said" from the end of a paragraph to the middle of a paragraph, painstaking journalistic diligence and enterprise to justify the byline that the editor awarded them.
My friend Gary was the London Freeps bureau in Sarnia. He’d wake up each morning to the 7 a.m. newscast on Sarnia radio, listening to his stories being read on the air. Gary tells the story that one morning on the newscast, the Sarnia radio anchor breathlessly reported: "Mayor Brandt went on to say, ‘Please turn to Page A-3’."
When I got to London and covered city hall for four years, there was no other newspaper, but I became a crucial source of city hall news for radio and TV.
You’re getting the gist by now, and we’re still only up to 1977, but let me tell you one story.
While the other media plagiarized exclusive stories I’d published out of city hall, there was a general agreement at city hall that when any of us was filing — remember, it was all by phone in those days if you weren’t going back to the newsroom — then the reporter filing would have privacy in the tiny cubbyhole press room where we tossed our coats.
One radio reporter would stick her tape recorder through the door and tape what the rest of us were filing, then report it herself.
So one day in late morning, when the London Freeps still had both a morning city and regional edition and a city-only afternoon edition, I raced to the press room, picked up the phone, and dialled my home, occupied at that time only by my late and much-mourned cat, Kolchak the Night Stalker.
I pretended not to notice the radio reporter sticking her mic through the door, as the phone rang and rang at my home; I asked switchboard for city desk, told the desk that I had an exclusive on the mayor’s launching an investigation into alleged corruption involving the activities of one of the city’s top bureaucrats (whom I named), and that I had to dictate to rewrite right away to get in the afternoon paper.
The story ran on the radio station for a couple of newscasts, until someone at city hall heard about it. When there was nary a syllable of the alleged scandal in the afternoon paper, I understand there was a bit of unpleasantness at the radio station.
I could go on with another 32 years’ worth of further examples, more than two decades of that time spent in Winnipeg, but you’re getting the point.