Pack Journalism: Conspiracy, Laziness or Plagiarism?

By the nature of their work, reporters from various newspapers will cover the same “breaking news” story. When two or more reporters cover the same “feature story” — a story outside of the normal news routine or not necessarily dictated by time constraints — then the similarity can sometimes be explained by simple coincidence.

But when reporters band together and cover the same story, the same sources, at the same time, with the same advocacy purpose — then that is disparagingly called “pack journalism.”

The veteran journalist, Marvin Kalb, writes: “Covering a campaign or the White House or any other story where a horde of journalists rush after a single source can often yield the meager one-dimensional news product associated with ‘pack journalism.’”

This “pack” phenomenon helps explain the five reporters who all traipsed out to the West Bank village of Kibya, a few days before the recent Israeli election, to report on a military raid led by Ariel Sharon 48 years ago. Reporters from The Washington Post, the Observer (UK), Newsday, Agence France Press, and Salon.com all presented a detailed account of the raid, and quoted officials from the Peace Now organization.

Last week, the pack journalists were out again. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times and Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian (UK) both reported on the opening of a new exhibit in the West Bank town of Ramallah dedicated to the memories of 100 Palestinian “martyrs.” Both reporters described the personal “totems” exhibited — a sling-shot, a pair of jeans, a running shoe, and other items — next to a photograph of the deceased.

Their identical use of the uncommon word “totem” might be dismissible as coincidence. But note the nearly identical language of both reports:

SONTAG: “Israeli critics would say that the exhibit, ’100 Martyrs – 100 Lives,’ glorifies death and encourages the cult of the shaheed, or martyr.”

GOLDENBERG: “Israeli critics would argue that the exhibit glorifies violent death, and promotes a cult of martyrdom.”

Since Goldenberg’s piece was published two days after Sontag’s, we have singled out Goldenberg for criticism. (Although we do not know when the reporters actually submitted the article to their editors.)

From a legal standpoint, there may not be a question here of copyright infringement — but there is certainly an ethical concern. If two university students had handed these in as term papers, the professor probably would have tossed one or both of them back at the students for cheating.

Further bias is indicated when both Sontag and Goldenberg engage a questionable journalistic technique, by assuming what Israelis critics “would say” — had the reporter bothered to ask.

Media watchdog smartertimes.com, wrote about the Sontag piece: “Israeli critics ‘would say’ that, if they had actually been called or quoted by the Times, rather than having their criticisms assumed. Funny how the Arabs in the article are interviewed and allowed to speak for themselves, rather than having their views summarized by a reporter estimating what they ‘would say’ had the reporter bothered go to the effort to ask.”

Read these articles, and decide whether they articles represent pack journalism, laziness, plagiarism, or some kind of journalistic conspiracy.

Please do not forward this page directly with HonestReporting’s comments. And don’t forget to preserve the integrity of the HonestReporting campaign by keeping your comments clean and respectful.

Read Sontag’s article.

Read Goldenberg’s article.

Complain about Goldenberg to:

letters@guardian.co.uk
suzanne.goldenberg@guardian.co.uk

Finally, if you have seen any other articles published about the martyr’s museum — perhaps in your local newspaper — please let us know.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.

HonestReporting.com


 

To Suzanne Goldenberg and the Editors of the Guardian:

The letter is regarding your article, “A Museum Fit for Martyrs” (23 February 2001).

While it is touching to know that the Palestinians who attack Jews with deadly force were once little kids who rode bikes and wore socks, one must remember that their victims and intended victims, too, were once little kids who rode bikes and wore socks.

But let’s put aside for a moment the inherent bias of the article, which evokes maudlin sympathies while remaining silent about the hard facts of these deaths — that the vast majority of these Palestinians died while perpetuating violent attacks, incited by their own textbooks, media, and mosques.

Instead, I wish to address the “pack journalism” effect of your article, appearing as it does two days after a similar article by Deborah Sontag in the New York Times.

Your identical use of the uncommon word “totem” might be dismissible as coincidence. But I refer to the nearly identical language in both reports:

SONTAG: “Israeli critics would say that the exhibit, ’100 Martyrs – 100 Lives,’ glorifies death and encourages the cult of the shaheed, or martyr.”

GOLDENBERG: “Israeli critics would argue that the exhibit glorifies violent death, and promotes a cult of martyrdom.”

From a legal standpoint, there may not be a question here of copyright infringement — but there is certainly an ethical concern. If two university students had handed these in as term papers, the professor probably would have tossed one or both of them back at the students for cheating.

Further bias is indicated when you (and also Sontag) engage a questionable journalistic technique, by assuming what Israelis critics “would say” — had the reporter bothered to ask.

I would appreciate some explanation — is this laziness, plagiarism, or some kind of journalistic conspiracy?

My past experience with the Guardian alerts me of the difficulty in eliciting any response, much less an admission of error. But I have faith in the democratic institution of free press, and hope for a changing of “the guard.”

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