July 29, 2016

The Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch has severed ties with food critic Elliott Shaffner after uncovering multiple instances of plagiarism.

In a note to readers, Executive Editor Paige Mudd said the newspaper was alerted Thursday that “a number of sections” of a dining review published this week were copied from a 2011 L.A. Weekly restaurant review.

Upon further investigation, the Times-Dispatch discovered that other articles written by Shaffner contained unoriginal language and removed all of her reviews from its website:

The Times-Dispatch, like all reputable news organizations, enjoys a long-standing relationship of trust with our readers. We are nothing without work that is fair, accurate and honest…this violation of trust by one of our freelance writers is unfair to our readers, and it’s unfair to our news colleagues who pride themselves on their reputations as trusted journalists.

Shaffner penned an open letter to readers Friday that included an apology to Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic for the Los Angeles Times.

In her letter, Shaffner explains that she is “a major fan-girl of Jonathan Gold’s” who carries an annotated version of his book around in her purse. She says she also draws inspiration from a notebook filled with quotes but is “not intentionally deceitful or steal-y.”

What I have to say is, that in a flurry of desperation, time management, lack of good judgment, I unwittingly put someone else’s words into work under my name. Did I have malicious intent? No. Did I even recognize what I was doing was plagiarism? I did not. But to see now, that I have taken words from one of the people I most respect hurts my soul.

Shaffner’s plagiarism was apparently not confined to her work for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Style Weekly published a note disclosing that she plagiarized sections of two reviews while freelancing for the alt weekly in 2015.

Style Weekly removed nine restaurant reviews Shaffner wrote from its website.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
More by Benjamin Mullin

More News

Back to News