One of the hundreds of unpaid randos who produce the vast majority of the blogs on SB Nation’s network of sites has been, uh, fired(?), after the discovery that she’d extensively plagiarized an article about NFL draft prospects in a post for the blogging network’s Denver Broncos site.
Awful Announcing has the details here. In brief, on Tuesday morning the blogger Yvonne Hew posted an article titled “Horse Tracks: Which Draft prospects should the Denver Broncos avoid?” on the SB Nation site Mile High Report; the article turns out to be a barely reworded copy of a Scout.com article titled “Finding Broncos: 5 NFL Draft Prospects Denver Must Avoid In The First Round.” In the Awful Announcing post linked above and below, you’ll find side-by-side passages that make the lifting abundantly clear; the plagiarism was obvious enough that a Mile High Report commenter pointed it out only a little more than a half-hour after the post—which has since been deleted—went up on the site.
In its broad outline, nothing about this differentiates it from your run-of-the-mill plagiarism scandal. I’d like to draw your attention, though, to the following quote, from Mile High Report editor Tim Lynch, which appears in the Awful Announcing post:
“After talking with the unpaid staffer to hear her justification, reviewing the two articles and talking with our senior staff, I let her go.”
The reasons to include the word “unpaid” there are pretty clear, as are its implications: This is not a professional writer, not a full or fully vetted member of SB Nation’s workforce, and therefore not someone whose conduct reflects on the company. SB Nation would have you believe that this is not much different from using the ban button against an abusive commenter; a marginal matter of site maintenance and not an editorial breakdown.
And look how eagerly Awful Announcing doofus Andrew Bucholtz laps up this line of argument, regurgitating it as a defense of SB Nation a few sentences later:
As with the FanSided cases, this is something that happened on a network site, not the high-profile home page, and both companies are massive networks with substantial amounts of writers. Plagiarism has happened at the best journalistic outlets (see Jayson Blair and the New York Times, plus many other cases), and it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as an overall indictment of the company in question (especially if they handle it swiftly and appropriately and make it clear plagiarism isn’t tolerated, as both FanSided and SB Nation have done).
See if you can follow the logic, here, such as it is. This happened on one of the hundreds of websites on which SB Nation happily farms out the production of virtually all its editorial content to unpaid amateurs operating with little to no editorial oversight ... therefore it somehow is not “an indictment of the company [that of its own volition chose a business model whose bedrock is the monetizing of content produced mostly by unpaid amateurs].” This, my good buddies, is bad media criticism.
SB Nation, as an institution, mostly has been able to avoid the kind of criticism that competing blog farm Bleacher Report endured for years, while running a shop not meaningfully different in its reliance upon amateur writers cranking out volume blogs for little or no pay. The network sites, run by a site manager who receives a monthly “stipend” and populated by unpaid content-uploaders, are treated as fully consubstantial with the central site and parent company when it suits the latter’s purposes—the top current article on Mile High Report contains a sponsored StubHub widget and commerce links to the Denver Broncos’ team apparel shop—but can be essentially disavowed when something like this happens.
But this logic is precisely backward. The sprawl of SB Nation’s network and the volunteer status of the overwhelming majority of those producing work on it do not exculpate the company from blame when one of those unpaid randos copy-pastes somebody else’s work and publishes it under their own byline; they inculpate it. The choice to rely on, and make money off of, a vast cloud of random minimally checked near-strangers is the choice to countenance shoddy work.
Pay your fucking writers.