Articles about "Jon Flatland"

Humor columnist disappointed Flatland didn’t rip him off

Mark Saal wonders why, despite a long career of pilfering humor columnists’ work, Jon Flatland left his alone. He searches some of his favorite lines from his columns and comes up empty — and a little disappointed.

No real writer likes to see plagiarism happen, but don’t kid yourself. Ninety-five percent of all the humor columnists in the country were secretly hoping they’d had at least one piece among those plagiarized by Flatland. And the other 5 percent are liars.

The snub, he decides, is a wake-up call: “If I ever expect to be plagiarized, I’m going to have to start producing — right here, right now — some better source material.” Read more

1 Comment

Jon Flatland was fired for plagiarizing in the ’90s

Ashley Tribune | Poynter
Jon Flatland’s resignation last week for serial plagiarism was not the first time he’s lost a job for stealing other people’s work. Flatland was fired for plagiarism while serving as editor of the Cavalier County Republican in Langdon, N.D., Francis Materi writes in this week’s edition of the Ashley Tribune, where Flatland was editor from 1989-’94. Tony Bender, who publishes the Tribune and used to work for Dickson Media, which owned the paper at the time, told Materi that he fired Flatland when he was caught pilfering Lewis Grizzard’s work.

“I should have hung (Flatland) from the highest tree,” Bender said. “Naively, I never imagined he would do it again. It appears, given enough rope and a complete lack of conscience, Jon has finally managed to hang himself.

“I have always believed in second chances and redemption,” Bender added. “Jon Flatland has sorely tested my convictions.”

Flatland resigned from the Times in Blooming Prairie, Minn., after a call from Greg Bulmash tipped him off that his plagiarism had been discovered. Flatland had taken from Bulmash’s work as well as from humor writer Dave Fox, who stumbled upon the plagiarism then alerted others. Read more

1 Comment

How serial plagiarist Jon Flatland learned he’d been caught

Jon Flatland’s incredible plagiarism spree came to an end earlier this week after a phone call from Greg Bulmash, who was among the writers humorist Dave Fox notified to say that Flatland had plagiarized their work.

Bulmash says Flatland, a columnist and former newspaper owner, copied his 1996 poem “When Dad Pulled Over.” “He changed the antagonist from an older sister to a brother, but it was otherwise pretty much word-for-word,” Bulmash wrote in an email.

“I called the paper, demanding to talk to the editor, not knowing that Flatland was the editor,” Bulmash said. “He claimed he hadn’t realized he’d plagiarized, saying he’d found it in an old folder and thought he wrote it. I asked for a public retraction and correction and suggested he get ready to issue more apologies because it seemed other authors had similar issues with him.”

After Bulmash called, Flatland emailed his boss, Rick Bussler, and resigned. “Feel like crap that I went-off half-cocked and gave him a heads-up before his boss could confront him,” Bulmash wrote.

This isn’t Bulmash’s first brush with unauthorized reuse of his work. A 1997 humor column he wrote about a McDonald’s application made Snopes after it became a much-forwarded email that senders claimed was true. Read more


Jon Flatland, columnist and former newspaper owner, exposed as serial plagiarist

Jon Flatland, a columnist, a former president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and one-time newspaper owner, has been exposed as a serial plagiarist.

When confronted with the evidence gathered by humor writer Dave Fox, Flatland abruptly resigned from his position as interim managing editor of the Times in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and “quickly and quietly left town,” according to the paper’s publisher.

In a profile last month of Jon Flatland and his wife, whom he met online, the Minnesota native said, “Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because if and when you do meet someone through a service like eHarmony, they’re going to find out pretty quickly you weren’t being honest. Just be yourself.”

It’s unclear how many humor columns of Flatland’s included stolen material, but it appears to go back many years and involves work taken from a variety of columnists. Just based on what has already been discovered, Flatland ranks high on the list of the worst newspaper plagiarists ever.

Fox, who lives in Singapore, was readying, a new site compiling his travel and humor writing he hopes to launch later this month, when he stumbled across Flatland’s byline on his material. “When I found that he had plagiarized my story,” he says by telephone, “I compiled a list of the humor columns he had written.”

Flatland, Fox says, “would change a few details to localize” pieces he copied. Fox estimated that “80 to 90 percent” of Flatland’s humor columns were plagiarized, based on Google search results.

Fox contacted the publisher of the first piece he found, the Benson County Farmers Press in North Dakota, and didn’t get a response.

Fox continued to Google phrases from other Flatland columns and he kept getting hits. He then notified Rick Bussler, publisher of the Times, and shared his findings. When Flatland learned what was going on, he left the paper’s office, emailed his resignation and then left town.

After contacting Bussler, Fox found other humor writers whose work Flatland plagiarized. Fox “went above and beyond,” says Jim Lee of the Carroll County Times in Maryland, whose Feb. 19 column about the cost of a penny reappeared under Flatland’s byline on Feb. 28.

Erik Deckers, who writes a humor column for 10 papers in Indiana, was also alerted to Flatland’s larceny by Fox. “The story that I told took place in Chicago,” Deckers says by phone. “He added his wife’s name to the piece and changed Chicago to Minneapolis. It almost seems like he wasn’t aware you could Google these things.”

Fox, who attended journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says he thinks “any reporter or writer who uncovers such egregious plagiarism really has an ethical responsibility” to contact others affected.

Bussler on Wednesday issued an apology to readers that details some of the outrageous offenses by Flatland:

Upon further investigation, The Times discovered virtually nothing in Flatland’s weekly columns is his own original work. After doing some digging, we discovered Flatland makes a weekly habit of ripping off humor columns from a wide range of other writers-from independent bloggers to columnists at major daily newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News.

This disturbing trend involving Flatland appears to have been going on for many years. Flatland has worked in the newspaper business for 28 years in several states, including Nebraska, North Dakota and Minnesota. The plagiarized columns have appeared in several publications Flatland has worked for in those states.

Reached by telephone, Bussler says, “It’s been an interesting week.” Flatland, he says, came to the paper last November after he placed an ad with the Minnesota Newspaper Association. Bussler, a police officer in Lakeville, Minnesota, heard from Fox last Wednesday morning and planned to take up the matter with Flatland when he got into the office later that afternoon. He characterizes Flatland’s email of resignation as saying something like, Sorry, it’s true, and I’m out of here. Flatland told Bussler he was leaving newspapering.

Bussler says he’s never dealt with anything like this in the two-and-a-half years he’s owned the paper. He plans to use it as a teaching tool, to “keep pounding into people, showing what took place here.” He’s going to pitch his alma mater, Minnesota State University, Mankato, about speaking about the incident. He’s removed all of Flatland’s columns from the Times website, but not his bylined local news stories. Like many of the people Poynter spoke with for this story, he marvels at how brazen Flatland appears to have been. “I don’t know how he ever thought he’d get by with that,” Bussler says.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists is also aware of Flatland’s offenses. An alert went out to its members today, written by humor writer Charley Memminger, one of the people whose work was stolen by Flatland. Memminger has reached out to the papers where Flatland worked, and also contacted the new owner of the two North Dakota papers once owned by Flatland. That led to a surprising exchange with none other than Flatland’s daughter:

Interestingly, the editor of the Steele County Press is Flatland’s daughter Lindsie. She was upset to learn of Flatland’s plagiarism and said she would conduct her own investigation of his past columns. In a note to me saying she intended to investigate this matter and write about it in her paper, she also said: Oh and please do not continue to call him my dad. As I said before, I would like to keep business and personal separate.”

Flatland has not responded to any of the people currently trying to reach him for comment and and explanation.

Poynter has obtained a copy of Flatland’s resume, which lists stints at newspapers in Missouri, Minnesota and North Dakota going back to 1985 and numerous awards, including the 2009 North Dakota Newspaper Association Appreciation Award for Best Humor Columnist, the 1998 North Dakota Education Association Media Courage Award, and the 1987 Red Falls, Minn., Jaycee of the Year. In the resume, Flatland says he was educated at Bemidji State University and Thief River Falls Technical Institute in Minnesota.

In his post about Flatland’s plagiarism, Fox provides this biographical sketch of the 47-year-old:

He also served as president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association…and had served on the board of the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation, according to Bussler. In 2011, Flatland accepted an award from the NDNA for a humor column that was in fact written by Jason Offutt, a writer in Missouri. The NDNA has been helpful in investigating Flatland’s activities.

Correction: Fox’s blog post, as originally quoted in this story, said that Flatland served as president of the NDNA for several years; he was president for one year. Also, Dave Fox’s website is named, not Globejotter. Read more

1 Comment