R.I.P., Plagiarizing Montgomery County Paper
This just in: The Montgomery County Bulletin is closing its doors. Its editor/publisher Mike Ladyman is tired of the plagiarism charges and the accusations and the 30-40-50 e-mails he received in the last two days: “You scum bag.” “You should go to hell.” And he ended his association with writer Mark Williams as of Wednesday night, when he says Williams offered to stop writing for him and he agreed.
As for the paper itself: “It’s dead right now. I’m not bringing out another issue. I’ll just close it up.”
Ladyman bought what was then a shopper-publication in 1998, when he decided to semi-retire after selling the magazine Wheels. As the editor/publisher of a small paper, he sold ads, edited and laid out the copy, and delivered the paper. “I didn’t do very much or any of the writing. I trusted Mark for that. “
Ladyman talked by phone today, answering our questions in a cordial, even jovial manner at times, except when he zeroed in on Slate and its writer Jody Rosen, who first raised the plagiarism charges against the Montgomery County Bulletin and then published them online (“an attack, an attention-grabbing hatchet job,” according to Ladyman)..
We wanted to know a lot of things, among them: Was this how you get by in a small paper when you don’t have enough money to hire staff? Did he know about the plagiarism of Houston Press food writer Robb Walsh’s work by Williams? How had he attempted to make sure his writer, Mark Williams, wasn’t plagiarizing?
And to begin with:
HP: “Is there really a Mark Williams?” Ladyman: “Yes.” HP: “There is a human being?” Ladyman: “Yes …There is a true person named Mark Williams. Mark Williams has written up a statement in regards to Mark Williams. Mark Williams is not me and I am not Mark Williams.” HP: “Well, what I want to ask you is, well Mark Williams plagiarized our writer’s work.” Ladyman: “He did, apparently . He no longer works with me. ..I surely apologize to you and anyone at your staff. “I pay Mark Williams as a stringer. He’s an independent contractor. It is a low-budget publication. Or was. It’s no longer a publication. I’m quitting. After this Slate article and this is the future of journalism in New York City. I don’t want any part of it.”
Ladyman said he was on deadline in mid-June at his 20,000-circulation paper when he got the first call from Rosen. His description of the Slate critic: “He truly acts like the rock-and-roll or the music critic. And if you don’t talk to him right away and for as long as he wants to, he feels slighted.” Ladyman says he was very concerned at the charges but he had other things he had to do at that moment to get out the paper. He says he asked Rosen to send him the three examples of so-called plagiarism and when he received them, he took them to Williams.
“When I contacted Mark about it he said that’s what was in the press releases they sent me. I know in today’s day and age, and I know maybe they shouldn’t, but I do understand what writers do and they do tend to maybe use too much of the PR that’s fed to them,” Ladyman says.
So to get this straight, the press releases had picked up parts of journalists’ stories and so that’s how Williams inadvertently plagiarized them (instead of just a press release)?
Well, that was Williams’ story, Ladyman says. “I’ve worked with Mark for six years and maybe my thing is I’m too trusting or whatever but that’s what he said. I don’t know if I believed him fully. I know I believe I was paying for original content.”
In any event, “I took it all down. This is a small operation. Even if I believed Mark it wasn’t like I could go to a set of attorneys. If there was a question about this and this was the first question we ever had, I would rather take them down so that’s what I did.”
The next time Ladyman says he heard from Rosen was about a week and a half ago. Rosen thanked him for taking down the Jimmy Buffett article down and mentioned he was thinking about doing a story on the Bulletin. Ladyman said he would have talked to anyone else from Slate but he wasn’t going to talk to the “aggrieved” party in a dispute over plagiarism. He thought someone else from Slate should have followed up.
One Wednesday, August 8 at 2:42 p.m., Rosen sent Ladyman an e-mail saying he was going to post an article on the plagiarism. Ladyman says he didn’t get the e-mail until that night when he came back in to the paper. In the e-mail, Rosen offered to include Ladyman’s comments, but since he was saying he’d already written the story, Ladyman says he didn’t think anything he could say was going to change anything. And Rosen apparently had already contacted National Public Radio and the New York Observer who each also had messages in to Ladyman that afternoon.
Other than the three articles Rosen showed him in June, the three that he took down off the web, Ladyman says Rosen never showed him any other examples of plagiarism in the Bulletin before publishing his attack online. Ladyman doesn’t consider this an honorable course of action.
“If I would have had the opportunity to look at any of these things, I would have not only pulled them down, I would have apologized, I would have written a written apology and I wouldn’t have been working with Mark anymore.”
“I wish the whole deal could have been handled more professionally. But I think honestly it wouldn’t have been a story if it was handled professionally,” Ladyman says. If he’d been given more evidence, the story about “the greatest case of plagiarism” (as it’s been labeled) might never have happened, he says.
“The mistake I made was not working fast enough for Jody Rosen and apparently I needed to be punished for it.”
Williams wrote three stories a week for the Bulletin: the feature story, the Bullpen and the music. He was paid seven cents a word for the feature and then $125 for the other two combined.
Asked how to contact Williams, Ladyman says his ex-writer lives in Brenham now where he’s a morning news talk show host in radio (a medium long known for its rip-and-read borrowing tendencies).
Asked what Williams’ on-air name is, Ladyman says he doesn’t know. “But there really is a Mark Williams.”
He referred to the statement Williams released (below) as “a kind of a confession, but it’s a very bitter confession. No he doesn’t admit to all of the different things that Jody put in his article.”
-- Margaret Downing
Here is the full text of Williams' "Open Letter to Jody Rosen":
I suppose it is time that we made contact, since I seem to be your favorite new obsession. For such a heralded and busy journalist, it is obvious that you have an abundance of free time in your daily schedule. You have done an exemplary job of exposing the seedy underbelly of duplicitous small town weekly newspapers and the evil doers that run them. You have indeed brought us to our knees.
I sincerely apologize for my crimes against you and any perceived damage done to your person or your career accomplishments. It was never my intention to cause you harm. The article in question was included in other press materials I had received via e-mail. I used parts of the article as background and did so thinking it was cleared for such use; but, as you have so subtly pointed out, I was mistaken.
Of course, you are certainly owed an apology, but one has to ponder for a moment just why that is; after all, you have most definitely garnered the attention of the bloggers that you evidently crave in abundance with this manufactured scandal. So my advice, if I may offer a small slice, is to enjoy the spotlight while it is yours -- have yourself a ball! You are the victor, so do enjoy the spoils.
It must have taken years of seasoned investigative know-how to push me off my lofty perch. It takes a dogged, intrepid journalist to expose the alleged wrongdoings of a 44-year-old college dropout who drifted from one lousy media job to another for 20 years; it takes courage to debase someone with a mouthful of cut-rate dentures who, up until 2007, lived in his parents’ home for seven years due to near-fatal bouts of clinical depression; it takes a journalist of a certain caliber to torpedo a pathetic hack who has barely squeezed out a living for nearly a decade at seven cents a word.
Savor your moment in the sun, Mr. Rosen. You win, we cry uncle. However, one salient point must be clarified at this time. According to your cleverly titled article on this situation, you stated that you contacted our daily newspaper of record for help in this matter; the very fact that you would refer to our daily newspaper of record as “reputable” is a source of amusement to our evil little weekly rag. In the last year alone, the newspaper in question has published front page articles accusing certain public officials of malfeasance, only to retract those allegations a day or two later. Ironically enough, that same newspaper has, on at least two occasions, shamelessly pilfered from our publication. Bet they didn’t mention that when you called them, huh?
It is easy to make fun of our little rag, Mr. Rosen -- to call attention to the gaffes and human foibles of a couple of faceless rubes a half a nation away; but, despite your grievances with our publication, I feel that we have done some good in our corner of the world. Through our output of articles over the years, we kept a hateful rogue element of the local Republican Party from taking control of our county library system and ripping the Constitution to shreds; we have reported unblinkingly on the troubled plight of illegal aliens living in our area; we have stood face-to-face with members of the Ku Klux Klan to question their ideological inconsistencies; and we touched the heart of a killer who turned himself in after reading an article in our publication on his victim, who, for years, struggled with alcoholism and the estrangement it caused with his family. In short, we have called attention to a great number of injustices in our crappy little town, both great and small.
So there it is, Mr. Rosen -- congratulations on breaking an already fragile soul. In the end, I’m not sure what the point of all of this truly is, other than some sort of small dully colored feather in your journalistic cap. We bow to you, Mr. Rosen -- to your talent, to your humanity, to all that is you.
Best regards to Jimmy Buffett,
Mark Williams The Bulletin Conroe, TX USA
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.