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JOURNALISM

Globe takes action on allegations against columnist Margaret Wente Add to ...

The Globe and Mail has taken disciplinary action against one of its high-profile columnists, who the paper says fell short of its journalistic standards when she failed to make it clear she was quoting someone else’s work in one of her own pieces.

Margaret Wente, who writes three columns a week, wrote a column in 2009 that contained similarities to one published in the Ottawa Citizen a year earlier. The similarities were highlighted by Carol Wainio in a post last week on her blog Media Culpa and quickly spread through social media.

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While The Globe’s public editor issued a statement Friday, it didn’t answer many of the questions raised in the blog or address any disciplinary action taken by the paper.

“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,” editor John Stackhouse said. “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.”

He said he spoke with Ms. Wente several times over the past few days about the lightly attributed column, but would not discuss any disciplinary measures taken.

She’ll continue to write for the paper, he said, adding The Globe would continue to take any complaints against any of its writers seriously.

“We’re not aware of any other situations,” he said.

Ms. Wente wrote in a column appearing in Tuesday’s Globe that said while it was “extremely careless” of her to have duplicated another writer’s paragraph, she wasn’t the serial plagiarist she was being made out to be.

“Journalists know they’re under the microscope,” she wrote. “If you appropriate other people’s work, you’re going to get nailed. Even so, sometimes we slip up. That isn’t an excuse. It’s just the way it is.”

Public editor Sylvia Stead said last week some of the work appeared to have been copied from another source but stopped short of calling the near-identical passages plagiarism. This fuelled the online outcry, particularly because the public editor at many news institutions reports to the publisher to avoid the perception of bias.

Mr. Stackhouse said the paper would change the way its public editor’s office operates, and Ms. Stead will report directly to the publisher rather than the newsroom to ensure she can examine complaints about the paper’s journalism without the perception of interference.

“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,” he said. “And it was apparent in this situation why – we need to separate her from the newsroom to give her more autonomy.”

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