JC / Railbird

2017 Eclipse-Winning Work Reuses 2010 Text

It was announced on Wednesday that Daily Racing Form photographer Barbara Livingston was the winner of the 2017 Eclipse Multimedia Award for her March 24, 2017 piece, “Chasing Man o’ War’s Ghost.” Livingston has written about Man o’ War at least twice previously for DRF, and her 2017 piece opened with a striking bit of text, a note from a friend:

You told me when we were friends (age 9) that you had Man O Wars blood in you … and I believed you bc u ran really fast and could whinny like a horse.

This is the same note from a friend that begins Livingston’s 2010 post, “Man o’ War — the final portrait,” about the great horse’s last picture:

You told me when we were friends (age 9) that you had Man O Wars blood in you….and I believed you bc u ran really fast and could whinny like a horse.

The similarities did not end with that one little note.

The first paragraph of the 2017 piece is the third paragraph of the 2010 post:

For me, there is one Big Red and he was born a hundred years ago, on March 29, 1917. If others of the same nickname preceded him, they were simply opening acts. Anyone since? Call them Big Red all you want, but, to me, they are imposters.

From there, a comparison of both posts reveals that almost all of the 2010 post has been repurposed, with some rearranging, into the 2017 piece. You can view highlighted screenshots of the 2010 post and the 2017 version. Note: The 2017 screenshot is cropped to only highlight the text copied from the 2010 post, it is not the full text of the 2017 story. To view the full text of both posts on DRF, click/tap this link for 2010 and this link for 2017.

Reusing or republishing content is not unheard of in media — pieces written for one outlet may get republished in another. A publication might republish an older work made freshly relevant, or a writer may return to an older work to expand or revise it. In most instances, when this happens, the work is accompanied by a note that indicates that it was originally published elsewhere, previously published on a certain date, or that it has been revised. This is attribution, and it’s a practice that avoids the appearance of an ethical issue — deceiving your audience about the provenance of a work.

There is no such attribution on the 2017 Man o’ War piece regarding the use of 2010 copy, nor is there a link to the 2010 post, either of which would have covered DRF and Livingston against the charge of what seems to have happened here — Livingston reused her 2010 post as the basis of the 2017 multimedia piece, which has now won an Eclipse Award.

So, what’s the problem with reusing your own work, without attribution, aka self-plagiarizing? It’s lazy, for one thing. It also does your audience a disservice, passing off older work as original. And in this case, such substantial reuse may also be against the rules of the Eclipse media awards, which state that entries “must have been published or aired for the first time between November 14, 2016 and November 16, 2017.”

Alerted to the reuse, Keith Chamblin at the NTRA said on Thursday:

We have reached out for input from Daily Racing Form, which submitted the entry for Eclipse consideration, and will be discussing the situation with the Eclipse Awards Steering Committee today.

I’ll update this post when there’s a resolution to the discussion.

1/8/18: After consideration, no change.

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Related reading:

In 2012, New Yorker writer Jonah Lehrer was caught reusing his work. The recycled text was first picked up by Jim Romenesko, launching a debate about self-plagiarism and attribution. The Columbia Journalism Review summed up the case against Lehrer like so:

The rules against all manner of journalistic recycling, from sloppy attribution, to self-plagiarism, to plagiarism, are part of the basic dos-and-don’ts of the craft. Lehrer’s many fans deserve an explanation, and hopefully they’ll get one.

Livingston’s fans also deserve an explanation.