The Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse responded to allegations that high-profile columnist Margaret Wente had made major journalistic errors on Monday evening, writing in a memo to staff that Wente's 2009 column that gained notoriety in social media over the previous five days was "unacceptable."

 

The Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse responded to allegations that high-profile columnist Margaret Wente had made major journalistic errors on Monday evening, writing in a memo to staff that Wente's 2009 column that gained notoriety in social media over the previous five days was "unacceptable."

"The journalism in this instance did not meet the standards of The Globe and Mail in terms of sourcing, use of quotation marks and reasonable credit for the work of others," Stackhouse wrote. "Even in the spirit of column writing, which allows for some latitude in attribution and expression, this work was not in accordance with our code of conduct and is unacceptable."

Stackhouse continued, saying he had "taken appropriate action," in regard to Wente's missteps, though as with all cases of discipline at The Globe, the consequences will remain private. 

Wente, speaking publicly about this for the first time since the initial Media Culpa blog post went viral last Wednesday evening, admitted in her Tuesday column that she had made a mistake, but maintained: "I am not a serial plagiarist. What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write."

Though she initially told public editor Sylvia Stead last week that she did not believe she had read The Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner's 2008 column on the same subject, Wente conceded in her Tuesday column that "I now realize I read that column before I wrote my own on the subject more than a year later." As for how a nearly-identical sentence of Gardner's ended up in Wente's 2009 column on the impact of genetically modified foods? 

"The only explanation is that I put it in my notes, then put it in my column," Wente wrote. "That was extremely careless and, for that, I apologize."

Carol Wainio's Media Culpa blog has been meticulously checking Wente's work for about 18 months. Over that time, Wainio has laid Wente's work side-by-side with that of others that Wainio identifies as similar. In her column, Wente characterizes Media Culpa as an “obsessive list of accusations involving alleged plagiarism, factual errors, attribution lapses and much else.” She continued, saying that The Globe's editors had spent "countless hours" following up on Wainio's complaints and were “quick to correct the record when warranted.”

Stackhouse told The Globe's media reporter Steve Ladurantaye that the paper was "not aware of any other situations," and that Wente would continue to write her column.

One thing that will change at The Globe in light of this affair is that public editor Sylvia Stead will now report solely to publisher Philip Crawley. Previously, Stead reported to Stackhouse — a relationship that was unusual for a public editor, as Craig Silverman noted on Poynter when Stead’s appointment to the role was announced.

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Stackhouse explained the reason for the change in The Globe’s management structure to Ladurantaye. "We’ve had a sense of unease since the position’s creation about the potential conflicts in a public editor being part of the newsroom and reporting to the editor,” Stackhouse said. “And it was apparent in this situation why – we need to separate her from the newsroom to give her more autonomy.”

The Globe's public editor position is newly-created as of Jan. 2012. Stead, who has been with the newspaper since 1975 and has held a variety of roles including as deputy editor, associate editor, executive editor and national editor in that time, is The Globe's first public editor. 

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m.

Public editor Sylvia Stead has responded with a post that gives advice to reporters and editors on how to avoid making errors such as Wente's. Stead also makes note of a number of things she needs to do as public editor, and writes that "I erred in not being more forthright in saying that the work in this complaint was unacceptable and failed to meet Globe and Mail standards. It was not acceptable. In my haste to respond, my earlier blog post was not well considered. I didn’t have all the information I required to make a proper assessment last week and should have taken more time and probed more." Stead also explains her reasoning for referring to Wainio as an "anonymous blogger" in her earlier post, a reference that angered many in the comment section of the post and on social media. 

Related stories:

Media Culpa blog raises questions of plagiarism by Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente

Globe and Mail public editor responds to questions of Wente plagiarism

Plagiarism is only as wrong as we make it

John Miller on 'Wentegate'