Words are important, even in journalism

Little dig there at my j-school friends… But seriously, this is a short but important piece from the Standards and Practices Managing Editor at NPR on why they won’t use the word “manifesto” for writings left behind by the terrorist who targeted the Buffalo Black community. There are many other words that newspapers and television outlets should be careful with. Anyone know if there’s a list?

Back in 2019, my predecessor as editor for Standards and Practices at NPR, Mark Memmott, responding to the shooting in New Zealand by a man who expressed similar motives, asked the newsroom to “move away” from calling the document that shooter left on line as a “manifesto.”

“The word ‘manifesto,’ ” Memmott wrote, “also may elevate such a statement, in the eyes of those who might want to copy this person’s actions, to something more than it might really have been.”

That warning holds true today. A “manifesto” can also be seen as a call to action. There are many words, “statement” “screed” and simply “writings” that come to mind to accurately characterize the online document without giving it the implied importance of “manifesto.”

Monday Monday


Surviving the post-book blues

Do you find yourself sad when you finish a great book? I’ll one up you. I start getting sad about halfway through. I see the end coming and I slow down my reading to try to draw it out. Sit with a chapter or section each day to try to make it last an extra week. Part of this, I’m convinced, is a sort of grief for the loss of recent friends or the change of circumstances, and part of it is a pessimism that I’ll ever find another book this good. I remember reading Klara and the Sun last year and thinking about halfway through, Damn, how long until old Kazuo gives us something new given that I ONLY WANT TO READ HIS BOOKS AND NOTHING ELSE EVER AGAIN. But a week or two later I was over it. Anyway, the BBC looks into the psychology behind your book grief. Apparently, the problem is: we don’t have enough connection anymore. (Anymore? I feel like I’ve been having this problem since the 70s.)

Bijal Shah, a bibliotherapist and author, is like a literary version of a matchmaker and counselling service in one – helping her clients find books that aid their mental well-being. According to Shah, the post-audiobook blues might be a hint of something innately human. “That is very, very common. It’s a sense of loss that you feel at the end [of a book] and you’re grieving. It’s like saying goodbye to so many friends you’ve made, because you’ve got to know this person over the course of the book and now there’s no more connection, and this is why sequels do so well – it’s that continuity.”

The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have re-calibrated many of our lives and our minds in ways we’d never thought likely. So, here in 2022, where are we heading with our yearning for personal connection? “I think the way our culture is going is that we are so focused on individualism, that we are now sort of craving that collective community. My parent’s generation and their parents grew up in these communities where it was all about helping each other and less self-focused,” Shah says.

“Whereas now… we need other people to constantly affirm us because we don’t have those natural connections that our parents’ and our grandparents’ generation had – that sense of community where we knew our place, we knew who we were, we knew where we belonged. I think we’re lacking that, currently. I think books probably fill up that space because they’re forging [that sense of community] by vicarious connections, so filling those holes, perhaps.”

Mental illness meets plagiarism

So, the big story I’m seeing this week is about this woman, who self-identifies as having mental health issues, who’s book was pulled for plagiarism, and who is then contracted by LitHub to write an essay about the connection between the two and ends up… well… plagiarizing parts of her essay. (The essay was removed almost immediately upon publication, though PDFs of it are floating around, I hear. Read LitHub’s statement on the whole fiasco here.)

I’ve encountered this before, once through a friend whose poems were cut from his book and subsequently plagiarized by his own publisher, and once with a student who took some work of mine and ran with it. The student, I believe was simply unaware of the gravity of their action, while the publisher, I believe, was mentally ill. The difference? Hard to say. The urge probably comes from a similar place, but one has the capacity to know it’s wrong and stop it? I don’t know. It’s hard to believe that in the age of the search engine anyone could rationally think they can get away with stealing the words of others. I

Regardless, this woman’s career is over, likely before it began. I feel sorry for her, really. She’s navigating some terrain that’s obviously difficult for her without any apparent help.

But while mental illness might EXPLAIN certain anti-social behaviours, and every situation should be looked at in context of a person’s ability and challenges, but it doesn’t preclude or EXCUSE the consequences of those behaviours, as inflicted upon others.

That said, I’m finding the pile-on a little distasteful. I suppose we live in a time where writers already feel ripped off constantly, if simply by the faceless forces of capitalism (everything from copyright laws to piracy to being asked to work for everything from less-than-what-one-is-worth to nothing), and the fallout of this is that when a face DOES appear, everyone goes full Salem witch trial.

Anyway, this person obviously needs some help and I hope they get it.

An author’s online essay on why she used plagiarized material in a novel pulled earlier this year has itself been removed after editors found she had again lifted material.

Jumi Bello’s essay, I Plagiarized Parts of My Debut Novel. Here’s Why appeared just briefly on Monday on the website Literary Hub. Bello’s debut novel, The Leaving had been scheduled to come out in July, but was cancelled in February by Riverhead Books.