An apology from none less than Aroon Purie.
Here is the opening paragraph of his "From the editor-in-chief" column in the latest issue of India Today (Oct. 25):
Jet lag is clearly injurious to the health of journalism. I was in America and still a bit bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived when we took an unusual decision: to split the cover. This is jargon for changing the cover for some editions; so while the content of the magazine remained the same worldwide, the cover that went to our readers in South India displayed the phenomenal Rajinikanth while our other readers saw Omar Abdullah on the cover. This meant writing two versions of 'Letter from the Editor'. Not being an acknowledged expert on the delightful southern superstar, I asked Delhi for some inputs. Unfortunately a couple of sentences lifted from another article were sent to me. An excuse is not an explanation. So, without any reservations, mea culpa. Apologies.
Now here's the opening paragraph from Purie's piece in the Oct. 18 issue:
Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia, and that makes sense. Besides producing, directing, and starring in his own action movies since 1980, he's earned millions in Hollywood with blockbusters like Rush Hour and The Karate Kid. But the No. 2 spot goes to someone who doesn't make any sense at all. The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986. This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth. Or, as his films are contractually obligated to credit him, "SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!" If you haven't heard of Rajinikanth before, you will when you watch his latest movie Endhiran: The Robot which has just opened in movie theatres around the world. It's the most expensive Indian movie of all time. It's getting the widest global opening of any Indian film ever made, with 2,000 prints exploding onto screens simultaneously. Yuen Wo-ping (The Matrix) did the action, Stan Winston Studios (Jurassic Park) did creature designs, George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic did the effects, and Academy Award-winning composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) wrote the music. It's a massive investment, but the producers fully expect to recoup that, because this isn't just some film they're releasing; this is a Rajinikanth film.
|FROM INDIA TODAY (SOUTHERN EDITION), OCT. 18|
And here are the opening two paragraphs from an article written by Grady Hendrix for the online magazine Slate:
Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia, and that makes sense. Besides producing, directing, and starring in his own action movies since 1980, he's earned millions in Hollywood with blockbusters like Rush Hour and The Karate Kid. But the No. 2 spot goes to someone who doesn't make any sense at all. The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986. This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth. Or, as his films are contractually obligated to credit him, "SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!"
If you haven't heard of Rajinikanth before, you will on Oct. 1, when his movie Enthiran (The Robot) opens around the world. It's the most expensive Indian movie of all time. It's getting the widest global opening of any Indian film ever made, with 2,000 prints exploding onto screens simultaneously. Yuen Wo-ping (The Matrix) did the action, Stan Winston Studios (Jurassic Park) did creature designs, George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic did the effects, and Academy Award-winning composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) wrote the music. It's a massive investment, but the producers fully expect to recoup that, because this isn't just some film they're releasing; this is a Rajinikanth film.
So, that's not just "a couple of sentences" that were lifted. That's almost all of the first two PARAGRAPHS. About 250 words were copied and pasted.
Three questions come to mind now:
1. Even if the "inputs" were sent by "Delhi", did they have to be reproduced word for word?
2. Is the person who sent the "inputs" still an employee of India Today?
3. Does Aroon Purie really write the "letter from the editor" column week after week after week?
PS: As is to be expected, Purie has got hell from the writer whose work was plagiarised. "Any man can apologize," Grady Hendrix wrote yesterday in an article for Slate titled Great Writers Steal, "but only the millionaire CEO of a multiplatform media company who is also editor-in-chief of a major news magazine can write an apology that is defiantly nonapologetic."
There's more in the same vein:
This official apology blamed jetlag for the theft, and if that's the case then my heart does go out to Mr. Purie's staff. If this is a man suffering from a narco-klepto disorder (also known as "sleep stealing") then he must be watched vigilantly. Every yawn is a signal to lock up your laptops, every announced nap is a sign that your wallet could suddenly go missing. But the jetlag apology wasn't meant to be taken as a serious statement, it was more of an old school attempt to make the problem go away with a silly, "Whoops, I'm tired!" shrug. Only with the new media, problems like this don't go away. While print journalists in India are said to be unlikely to report on the infractions of their colleagues, the Internet knows no loyalty, and all over India online writers are still tweeting and blogging for a better explanation.
Hendrix also reproduces the letters Purie wrote to him and to the editor of Slate. And he says at the end, "...as far as I'm concerned this is a satisfactory close to the matter".
But is it? Plagiarism is the bane of journalism and it is unlikely that either his competitors or his readers will forgive Aroon Purie — precisely because he's the editor-in-chief of India's first major English news magazine and the largest-selling — for this blatant transgression.
'She copied my article and it was sent back to my magazine as her feature!'
Shagorika Easwar, editor of the Toronto-based Desi News and CanadaBound Immigrant comments: You know, recently, I received an article on heart health from Maharaja Features. It seemed strangely familiar. The more I read, the more it seemed like I had read it before. And then it dawned. It was an article I had written on the subject a few years ago! Their feature writer lifted it word for word, with just two changes. Where I had written about spotting people jogging along Lakeshore Boulevard, she 'saw' them on Bandra Bandstand. She also changed the name of one of the people quoted in the article. Other than that, it was exactly as is. Including the intro para that began with now that heart-shaped candy boxes had been put away, it was time to get serious about heart health. That made sense in March, the month we ran it, after Valentine's Day. They sent the article in August, when you have to wonder which heart-shaped candy boxes were being put away.
I wrote to Mr KRN Swamy of MF and he responded with something about how they would never use the lady's articles again. And that was that. (I should clarify here that I don't think Mr Swamy knew. His own articles on history and travel are meticulously researched with due credit given to sources. This was one of his feature writers and if it took me a few minutes to make the connection, I can hardly expect him to have remembered an article we carried a few years ago. He gets a copy of Desi News each month as we carry some of their features and she might have seen it there and tucked it away for future use!)
I thought that was bad enough, but this India Today case is shocking. And the man has the gall to try and shrug it off with a half-hearted apology that is more along the lines of "I'm sorry I got caught, BUT... " We all know that politicians have speech writers, that more often than not, the brave, inspiring words they spout were written by someone else. After seeing this, I begin to wonder if editors have ghost writers! Such a shame.
'This episode highlights the problems we all face today — delegation'
R. Umesh, partner in a Bangalore-based chartered accountancy firm, comments: A monumental gaffe indeed. But tell me, I don’t know how this works — how would one identify plagiarism anyway? I feel the only way this could have been avoided was for Aroon Purie to write the editorial himself (which is what I presume he should be doing in the first place), right?
This episode also highlights the problems that we all face today — delegation. Just to what extent can you delegate your work? If you cannot, then how do you handle workloads? I have no idea about Aroon Purie's workloads, but I am sure it must be high. This is why we become donkeys at work — because reliability today comes at a premium. This is what I refer to in office as the CR factor (C for capability and R for reliability). I always say — If I were to choose between two chartered accountants for a job at our office, I would surely go for the one who is more reliable though less capable (even if that means I have to put in extra time). Generally, you never find a person with the right combination. In other words, this is the classic conundrum at many offices today. I sure don’t want to land up in Purie’s unenviable position.
'Is Indian media indifferent to plagiarism?'
Here is veteran journalist Bala Murali Krishna's take on the issue: "India Today’s plagiarism scandal".
Bala, who is now associate editor with The New Indian Express in Chennai and who taught journalism at Commits as guest faculty when he lived in Bangalore, makes an important point when he writes that the Purie "apology that is a non-apology, the unwillingness to explain the real circumstances of the incident and an unwillingness, over the years, to address other similar allegations, suggest a pattern of indifference at India Today that, embarrassingly, might be a proxy to the entire Indian media".
He then makes a comparison with American media:
The Washington Post stripped [Janet] Cooke of the Pulitzer, The New York Times ordered a complete audit of each and every word written by [Jayson] Blair and published in its editions, and made a determination of the extent of plagiarism and/or unethical practice. It also fired the blogger Zachery Kouwe, who had copied from the Wall Street Journal’s blogs. The Boston Globe, USA Today and others have responded in similar fashion, firing editors, writers and reporters found plagiarizing or indulging in unethical practices.
Now I think the only way Aroon Purie can redeem himself and salvage the reputation of India Today is by stepping down as editor-in-chief. But I am not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
- And the DNA column that says plagiarism is okay because it is "the ultimate form of flattery" and it has "real (positive) spinoffs".
- Aditya Sinha, the editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express, was the first media honcho to write about the Purie scandal. An excerpt:
The buck stops at the top... and it will take time for Purie to live down this stupid-mistake-by-stupider-underlings. But that’s good, in a way, if it occasions some introspection and forces some self-regulation. India Today has been charged with plagiarism too many times lately; just ask Canada-based blogger Niranjana Iyer or Anshuman Rane of the UK digiterati. It’s not a coincidence that these victims were foreign-based and that their work appeared online. It seems Indian journalists think that they are immune given a blogger’s distance from an Indian court and the fact the cyber-universe is so vast that the readership of a particular online article is often limited. No apologies have ever been offered to either of these two, by the way, and the culprits roam free to plagiarise again. Similarly, the Times of India film critic, Nikhat Kazmi, lifted from the legendary Roger Ebert for her review of Shark Tale, yet she remains at work for India’s largest media company.
Read the no-punches-pulled column here: "Plagiarise and be damned".
- Mitali Saran, who wrote a weekly column, Stet (Commitscions know what this means now), for Business Standard, dedicated her October 30 post to the Aroon Purie plagiarism scandal — but BS refused to print it. Now Saran has terminated her agreement with the newspaper. What did Saran write? And why did BS refuse to print the column? Read all about it here: "The case of the missing attribution".
- Niranjana Iyer, a writer and book critic based in Ontario, Canada, says India Today plagiarised her blog post and refused to respond.
- And India Today gets more flak, this time for its Goa cover story (November 6), from Vivek Menezes, the founding editor of "an online review of art, culture, news and opinion relating to Goa" — Tambdimati.com: "Another low for Aroon Purie".