City Desk

Brightest Young Things Editor Accused of Plagiarism

Buzzy Washington arts website Brightest Young Things has been hit with a plagiarism scandal in its spring and summer music guide.

Blurbs attributed to Brightest Young Things managing editor Logan Donaldson were actually lifted from music websites, Rolling Stone, the British Telegraph, and even Wikipedia, according to American University student and former controversial NPR intern Emily White, who first noticed the plagiarism.

White says she was reading Donaldson's entry on California band Wavves when she became suspicious. The interview seemed too similar to a 2009 Interview magazine article she had recently read about the band.

Here's a portion of Interview's story:

While most of his friends back in San Diego are busy smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and complaining of boredom, 22-year-old Nathan Williams is busy writing and singing songs about smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and being bored. It’s an irony not lost on the boyish-looking Southern California native, who, these days, is better known by the musical nom de plume Wavves.

And here's Donaldson's, with sentences that are identical to Interview's article in bold:

While most of his friends back in San Diego are busy smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and complaining of boredom, 22-year-old Nathan Williams is busy writing and singing songs about smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and being bored. It’s an irony not lost on the boyish-looking Southern California native, who, these days, is better known by the musical nom de plume Wavves. We’re under the assumption that it might be warm in April, the perfect time to get into the mood for sunny music.

In another case, Donaldson appears to have plagiarized from Australian website Novel's description of house musician Julio Bashmore. Here's Novel's write-up:

One of the freshest talents coming out of Bristol, Julio Bashmore is such a master of the ins and outs of American house that he gives the impression that he was born there. His output over the past year or so has flitted around the edges, never quite moving in a straight line, roping new styles and sounds onto house foundations with an always playful, deft touch. The funky strut of Um Bongo’s Revenge, the old school piano on Jack Got Macked, Footsteppin’s rich, elastic, 2-step accented, grooves.

And Donaldson's, with passages similar to Novel's in bold:

Julio Bashmore’s output over the past year or so has flitted around the edges, never quite moving in a straight line, roping new styles and sounds onto house foundations with an always playful, deft touch. The funky strut of “Um Bongo’s Revenge,” the old school piano on “Jack Got Macked,” “Footsteppin’s” rich, elastic, 2-step accented, grooves. You weren’t in a club last year unless you heard his brilliant crossover pop-dance hit “Au Seve.”

Like with Wavves, Donaldson seems to have written the final sentence himself. After White and friend Marissa Cetin tweeted about the plagiarism, Donaldson's byline disappeared from many of the blurbs, replaced instead with the names of, but not links to, the websites that the blurbs were taken from. By my count, 18 blurbs on the music guide are now attributed to other websites and publications, including Rolling Stone and Wikipedia.

Donaldson didn't respond to a request for comment from City Desk, but in a tweet Cetin says he deleted after being contacted about the plagiarism, Donaldson describes himself as "in the process of unattributing myself + crediting sources."

But of course, Donaldson did write some portions of the blurbs, which makes this hard to chalk up to just an accidental copy-and-pasting. White says she could have understood one accidental use of another website's material, but not this many.  "When it's every single one, it just seems really, A, careless and, B, straight up copy and paste plagiarism," says White.

In an email, Brightest Young Things founder Svetlana Legetic acknowledged that some of Donaldson's contributions to the music guide have had their attribution changed, referring to the blurbs as a "handful (of now rectified) missteps."

While Legetic says that her site has a policy against plagiarism, that policy seems less harsh when it comes to guides.  "In the case of the GUIDES which are very lengthy and exhaustive and cover a plethora of artists between them it sometimes becomes hard reinventing the wheel in terms of band/genre descriptions," Legetic writes. "Especially since most publications these days seem to work off of the same press release verbiage etc."

In her email, Legetic worried that the focus of this blog post would be on Donaldson's plagiarism and not the guide itself. "I would hate the focus on it to be the handful (of now rectified) missteps we are definitely aware of and have actively addressed, and not on the overall purpose of said guide (which is to have the BYT Music Team's taste level on your side this Spring/Summer)."

Even better, Brightest Young Things readers won't just have the Music Team on their side. They'll have the Telegraph. And Wikipedia. And...

Read Legetic's statement on the plagiarism, minus a paragraph about her phone number, below:

 

Having said that-BYT obviously has a strong non-plagiarism policy (we staff photography and writers for every single one of our live show/recap/interview stories which is probably more than 99.9% of internet can say-and trust me, people have copy and pasted our whole articles or original photos and run them as their own) but in the case of the GUIDES which are very lengthy and exhaustive and cover a plethora of artists between them it sometimes becomes hard reinventing the wheel in terms of band/genre descriptions, especially since most publications these days seem to work off of the same press release verbiage etc.

This should not say that the quotes should not have been properly accredited but out of 12,546 words this GUIDE has (literally) they don't really make up enough of a story to not call the article our own or make the article a valuable and interesting resource for the DC music loving public.

I am free to chat on the phone, and I know how much you guys are into picking up on the mini BYT internet scandals that pop up here and there and I am always ok to comment but as someone who has participating in thousands of all original words in this guide I would hate the focus on it to be the handful (of now rectified) missteps we are definitely aware of and have actively addressed, and not on the overall purpose of said guide (which is to have the BYT Music Team's taste level on your side this Spring/Summer).

Update, 3:00 p.m.: Cetin has written her own blog post about Donaldson's blurbs.

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  • http://www.showlistdc.com ShowlistDC

    I don't understand how Svetlana can call this "the BYT Music Team's taste" when BYT's staff didn't write large chunks of this guide. It's severely disappointing that she completely misses the point of why this is such a big deal.

  • Begla

    If this is a problem, than so is the widespread practice in online news journalism of writing stories simply based on an aggregation of other people's tweets (which, thankfully, WCP rarely does)--both are done for reasons of speed and cost reduction and grabbing eyeballs. Journalism is that strange place where "plagiarism" is a greater sin than Judith Miller telling us that Iraq had buckets and buckets of nukes.

    All solidarity to Logan.

  • Ramon Ramirez

    The protocol here is straight-forward: The publication apologizes for the oversight and then the writer is let go. I'm troubled by the founder's defense of this hack.

  • Ken

    There's a huge difference, Begla, in aggregating and attributing and just stealing content and passing it off as your own. This is why it's a problem when places like BYT hire people with zero journalism experience or training to write for them. You get either schlocky, unedited copy or even worse, stuff like this.

  • Chris

    Yes, both of those things are problems Begla. Plagiarism is a big deal because it means you can't trust anything the person is saying at this point because their opinions are not only someone else's, but they've lied to you by passing them off as their own. The Iraq WMD issue was a problem because of the lies involved. Neither is acceptable and trying to rank which is 'worse' is to miss the point. Regardless of lies are worse they're all lies in the end.

    Also, this reminds me of season 5 of The Wire, except for a shitty hipster website. Everyone running the place has no problem looking the other way when improper journalism is happening under their watch just so long as they get the eyeballs.

  • Jon

    The problem of aggregating tweets and calling it "an article" is just as bad. We are losing the days of actual reporting, writing and true journalism in favor of "get it out 43 seconds before the other guy does" I am a music writer for my own blog and another larger online publication, and I would never think of using other people's words in my reviews. If I am reviewing a band's live set or album, I actually avoid others' reviews until mine is published just so it comes from me, with no outside influence.

    The point here is, BYT never would have added the attributions if they hadn't been called out by outside sources. Take some pride in your work. Why let Rolling Stone, and the Telegraph do the actual work? Yes, I understand the Guide was 12,000+ words. Do the research, be a writer, and make it a BYT Guide, like you claim. Not a guide of "here's what everyone else has to say about this years' spring and summer music."

  • https://twitter.com/Ted_Scheinman Ted Scheinman

    I don't know who this "Chris" is, but I like his style.

  • Mike

    If it really "becomes hard reinventing the wheel in terms of band/genre descriptions" then just call your guide a roundup of reviews/media attention mixed in with your own commentary.

    It could go something like:

    The Buzz
    "Not since Bob Dylan went electric has act generated so much controversy. The decision by fun. to embrace a new Christian death metal sound has turned off most of its fans while making Garth Brook's alter ego Chris Gaines look like the second coming Elvis." -- Paste

    Our take
    We don't see what the big deal is. The band needed to find a way to expand beyond its teen girl fan base. Besides, when was the last time you saw a death metal act pull of capri pants so well?

    There. Problem solved.

  • Matt Cohen

    BYT needs an Ombudsman.

  • Ahmad

    What BYT needs is to have all their access (to shows, clubs, musicians and their music) revoked by club owners/record companies/publicists, etc. They have been getting a free ride based on this bullshit they call "journalism" for way too long.

  • Dave

    If you read Svetlana's email, I think it's obvious why they don't do their own writing.

  • Pingback: Brightest Young Thing’s managing editor lifts from other publications | Marissa Cetin

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com LJ

    @ahmad So, the 50 to 100 contributors who take the time and put in the work to cover shows or do interviews or take and edit photos should be punished? I think most music journalists, bloggers, what have you would be insulted that you think they get a "free ride." Do you think all the WaPo coverage or P4K coverage of SXSW or WCP arts coverage is a result of a "free ride" because they got a ticket? Maybe you work for free but I doubt the Chris Richards', David Malitz', Will Sommers, Jon Fischers, Lindsay Zoladz' of the world consider getting a ticket or access a "free ride" - it's necessary for them to do their jobs. Your excitement over one person's transgressions seem a little misguided, maybe you have a blog and don't get a "free ride"? Your contempt for BYT as a whole clouds the fact that this is an incident laid at the feet of one person, not an entire organization.

  • OTOH

    It is a little ironic for Emily White, of all people, to be complaining about IP theft.

  • Jim

    Wait, people give the slightest bit of journalistic credence to BYT? Seriously? I find this notion rather laughable.

    It's sort of like being mad at a 12 year old for copy/pasting content to their Bieber fan site without proper attribution - who cares?

  • Ahmad

    Jim's comment is spot on and why BYT should not be given the access they are given. They are not, nor should they have ever been considered on the same level as the Post or WCP or Pitchfork or DCist or any of the other publications out there doing legitimate work. Also, I'm sure there are contributors also working hard for them; their supervisors are who that comment was directed at.

  • Marc M.

    You don't have to take something seriously to think that it's wrong to reproduce someone else's work verbatim without attributing it to them. That's unfair to the person being ripped off regardless of who does it.

  • Mitsy

    Don't have time to write guides? Hire more writers

  • Logan

    Don't have time to write guides? Hire more writers - Logan

  • Maria

    @LJ JOBS? How on Earth can you say anyone at BYT is doing a "job"? Especially considering that their "editors," past and present have done little editing other than editing out references that reveal their plagiarism??? They have not even acknowledged their plagiarism on their website by noting that anything has be updated or revised. They will never apologize. And none of this would ever be known if some young women hadn't done a little sleuthing.

    BYT gets free tickets, special access to events, preview and interview opportunities, oh yeah AND MONEY from advertisers to pay "a select few" who don't do their "jobs," while they "hire" fresh young people who don't really know any better to "work" for no money precisely for the access that BYT gets. Anyone worth their snuff at BYT leaves it for reputable publications as quickly as they can.

    Yours is a weak defense of BYT, an "organization" that still has not acknowledged the "transgressions" of "one person," let alone apologized for them. BYT thus has adopted his "transgressions" as BYT's own. If this is not the sort of "journalism" that BYT stands for, then let them start their acts of contrition. If they don't, they should be cut off. Period.

  • Pingback: D.C. culture blog Brightest Young Things caught plagiarizing | D.C. Decks

  • http://www.google.com LJ

    @Maria I'm defending the people who had nothing to do with this issue which is about 99% of them. Sit on your high horse all you want but don't be an idiot. Anyone can get interviews, tickets, and access by contacting a publicist or record label (which by the way provide most of the access, or the band themselves - not the venues.) All these complaints about access just make you sound petty and jealous, and for what? If you want access, go out and get it your damn self. No one is stopping you, not BYT, no other blog. And whatever you think should happen, guess what - it won't. And it shouldn't. If you want to read real journalism go read Will Sommer's riveting "kids throwing fruit" article today. Just spine tingling stuff.

  • Maria

    @LJ Oh, I see! You're one of them! Your baseless personal attacks show you for what you really are. As for me, I'm not petty or jealous, I just tire of entitled assholes easily. They are really just not nice people to be around. *smooches*

  • http://www.google.com LJ

    @Maria Not baseless, I think your post makes you sound like an idiot. That's my base. You just seem petty and jealous. "BYT gets free tickets, special access to events, preview and interview opportunities, oh yeah AND MONEY from advertisers to pay "a select few" who don't do their "jobs," while they "hire" fresh young people who don't really know any better to "work" for no money precisely for the access that BYT gets. Anyone worth their snuff at BYT leaves it for reputable publications as quickly as they can." Oooooh special access, boo fucking hoo. "Fresh young people," are you a writer for "Sassy"? You've created a false fantasy in your post, and you claim to know that the people at BYT aren't fun to be around? How's that? Are you around them, have you been? You're telling stories that don't make any sense. Who's entitled? Everyone I know who writes for them busts their ass, forges relationships with promoters, artists, publicists, labels, etc. What exactly do you do? If anything? Besides bitch and moan. Get off your ass and do something about it if you want "special entitled super fun sassy young access." SMOOCHESSSSSSSSSSS

  • Maria

    @LJ You do not know me, so you know nothing about my intelligence. Your personal attacks are baseless, as my response did not attack you or call you any names, but pointed out the weaknesses in your defense of BYT. Instead of basing your defense of the site on its actual content, you lash out with personal attacks. That's on you.

    This entire plagiarism scandal demonstrates one thing as clear as day: they have no idea what they are doing (writing, editing, maintaining any journalistic integrity).

  • Maria

    And, because it is clear to me that you do not know what I mean, the whole question of "access" is whether BYT should be treated as "press" or media or journalists, and therefore given access in exchange for coverage. I do not hold myself as a music/arts/culture journalist, so I do not expect special access, request it, etc. If I were offered it, I would laugh because I know what I am. BYT holds itself out as a publication, and thereby gets access that only the media gets. Yet it does not observe standards that media outlets are supposed to. Therefore, it should not be treated as "press." That is all.

  • http://www.google.com LJ

    @Maria I don't know you, you're right, and I don't know if you're an idiot or not - so - I'll apologize. It's the tone of your post and others calling for the heads of everyone at BYT that infuriates me because, yes, I obviously know several (not all, there are many) affiliates and I know how hard they bust their ass to cover a show or do an interview, spend hours writing, editing, and put out good work. That's subjective I know but I'll hold Catherine McCarthy, Phil Runco, Alan Zilberman, Andy Johnson, Steve Place and others up to anyone's standard of quality and they'll pass. This was an inexcusable offense handled poorly at the start and it's not shrugged off easily by those who write for BYT or run it - whether or not I can prove that to you on a WCP comment board is probably not debatable, I'm sure it's "no." BYT covers way more music and film and city arts than WCP or DCist or any other DC publication and it's not just people making stuff up, the work goes in, and it shows in a LOT of their work. This incident, yes, of course, affects the view of those who didn't know about BYT and those who already hated it for whatever reasons. I'm too old to worry about the "scene" or events stuff, but I enjoy a lot of the writing and I love how they show support to local bands from here to Baltimore. No one else is doing that, not to that extent, so it's painful for them to take a blow like this but all they can do is attack the problem, fix it, and keep it moving. I know my friends have worked hard to maintain the relationships they have with nation acts, labels, venues, etc. and I don't think they should suffer wholesale because of this. You know BYT is a target and they're getting hammered from all sides right now. I'm not defending the incident but I'll go to bat for a lot of the writers and photographers who spend hours editing photos, they deserve it. Josh Sisk (WaPo,) Jeff Martin (WaPo,) Chris Svetlik, Chris Chen, and many more... You didn't deserve to be called an idiot, it makes me as petty as I think people sound when they say "Take away the access!" The access isn't given, it's born of trust and relationships built over the years. There are many who DO know what they're doing, but as if this happened at any other publication they're not the ones calling the shots but they're putting lots of work in on top of other freelance gigs or day jobs, what have you. Some contribute to Tiny Mix Tapes, DCist, and more and they didn't deserve to have this happen to them or lose a creative outlet and ambition to cover as much as they can. There work on other outlets is not shit just because they also write for BYT, no? Internet apologies probably hold about as much weight as an internet insult but that's all I got, I am just trying to be one of the few people to shed light on the reality of the situation. And if you care this much to make these points about integrity, you probably know more about music and art than you let on with "I know what I am" comment and hey, I know someplace you could go write for if you wanted to give it a shot.

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