Plagiarism questions at Chicago paper owned by a state legislator

Better Government Association

Illinois state Sen. Steven M. Landek (D)
Illinois state Sen. Steven M. Landek (D)

The Better Government Association (BGA), a Chicago-based investigative journalism nonprofit, has accused the editors of the Desplaines Valley News of plagiarizing numerous stories in a series of unsigned editorials. The co-owners of the paper are Illinois state Sen. Steven M. Landek (D) and former Chicago Sun-Times editorial page editor Mark Hornung, who resigned from that position in 1995 after being accused of plagiarism.

In the article published yesterday, reporters with the BGA claimed that 14 editorials published in the suburban weekly contained similar or identical language found in stories published by other news outlets around the country, including The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and seven additional journals and web sites.

As the editorials were unsigned, there's no direct indication that Hornung authored any of the pieces. The BGA story cites an unnamed "person familiar with the paper's operation," who claims that Hornung writes many of the Valley News editorials himself.

The BGA also raised ethical questions about the newspaper's habit of accepting advertising from cities in Landek's district. In addition, the BGA noted that the Village of Bridgeview, where Landek also serves as mayor, has hired Hornung as a "consultant."

Hornung's previous problems with plagiarism occured in 1995, when he resigned as editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times after he was caught lifting significant passages from a Washington Post editorial and including them in one of his columns. He then became vice president of circulation for the newspaper until 2001, when he became publisher of the Daily Southtown, which was owned by Hollinger International Inc., then the parent company of the Sun-Times. Hornung was forced to resign as publisher amid Sun-Times officials admitted that under his leadership, the paper overstated its circulation figures.

Neither Hornung nor Landek responded to requests from Poynter for comment for this story. But on March 11, after it became clear that the BGA was investigating the plagiarism charges, Landek published a short announcement in the Desplaines Valley News. "Our unsigned editorial page contained similarities in topics and facts from stories featured openly in the national debate," Landek admitted. "We should have cited more of our source material in our unsigned pieces."

Landek has also promised that the paper has "removed archived content from our website following a request from a publisher" and "tightened internal controls regarding unsigned content."

Related: Is it original? An editor’s guide to identifying plagiarism

Correction: Headline originally said legislature and has been changed to legislator.

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