Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn fired for plagiarism

Kansas City StarBottom Line Communications
The Kansas City Star fired Steve Penn, a human interest columnist since 2000, on Tuesday “for using material that wasn’t his and representing it as his own work,” the newspaper reports.

In the normal editing process and a follow-up review, it was discovered that Penn had lifted material from press releases verbatim, in some cases presenting others’ conclusions and opinions as his own and without attribution. Editors found more than a dozen examples in Penn’s columns dating back to 2008.

The paper describes a few examples of the plagiarism:

  • A column last month about the death of a restaurateur took “descriptive phrases and entire portions from a funeral parlor’s release.”
  • In March, he wrote a lead sentence that “was identical to the first sentence in a press release” and copied (or nearly copied) other paragraphs.
  • Another June column “repeated nearly an entire release about a partnership between the Duke Ellington family and Alaadeen Enterprises Inc. to aid U.S. veterans.”

Penn had been with the Star since 1980.

Related: The Independent suspends columnist Johann Hari, accused of lifting quotes from articles and interviewees’ own books.

Correction: This post originally said that Hari works for the Guardian. He’s a columnist for The Independent.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Poole/1494638422 Eric Poole

    But you don’t re-write them verbatim, especially if you’re a columnist. A columnist is supposed to have a unique viewpoint and style. If the columnist is just going to rewrite press releases, fire the columnist (usually one of the highest-paid journalists on the paper) and just reprint the release. It would be a lot cheaper that way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Agnew/511722473 Beth Agnew

    Press releases are meant to be picked up by other media and broadly distributed. If they’re well-written, more of their content is likely to be published as is. Since when did publishing anything from a media release constitute “plagiarism”? Despite the collision of new media with old journalism, PR people want you to use their stuff, their jobs depend on it. However, presenting someone else’s pithy turn of phrase as one’s own brilliant prose is skating across the line. As a responsible, ethical writer, when you know that golden phrase isn’t yours, a simple attribution keeps your hands clean.