Veteran newsman Phil Pash resigns

Columnist and sports writer voluntarily resigned after The Rock River Times was notified he had plagiarized significant portions of a Beloit Daily News article

Phil Pash, veteran newsman and columnist for The Rock River Times, voluntarily resigned after The Rock River Times learned he had plagiarized portions of a Beloit Daily News article in his June 15-21, 2005, “Up & Down the Rock” column.

Plagiarism is defined by the journalism textbook News Reporting and Writing, Fourth Edition as “The use of any part of another’s writing and passing it off as your own.” The textbook was written by The Missouri Group—Brian S. Brooks, George Kennedy, Daryl R. Moen and Dan Ranly—for the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Beloit Daily News Editor Bill Barth notified The Rock River Times Editor & Publisher Frank Schier in a June 21 letter that significant portions of an article published by reporter Ann Montgomery in the June 2, 2005, issue of the Beloit Daily News, were taken directly from Montgomery’s article and used in Pash’s June 15-21, 2005, “Up & Down the Rock” column without attribution. The article was about a rail line being built around Pearl Lake Resort campground near South Beloit.

Barth wrote in his letter:

"Dear Editor Schier:

Enclosed you will find a copy of a column from your paper, by an individual named Phil Pash. The date of publication is June 15-21.

You will also find a copy of an article written by Ann Montgomery, a reporter for my newspaper. The date of publication is June 2, 2005.

The two articles contain identical passages. I do not believe this is a coincidence, but rather a case of deliberate plagiarism of our copyrighted intellectual property.

We take these situations very seriously. I trust you do, too.

At the very least, I would appreciate acknowledgment in your paper—in a position of similar prominence to Mr. Pash’s article-that The Rock River Times published plagiarized material.

I await your response.

Sincerely,

William R. Barth

Editor"

Immediately upon receiving the letter, Schier contacted Barth and extended his apologies to both Editor Barth and reporter Montgomery. Schier also immediately pulled Pash’s columns for this issue, including “Phil Pash’s Up & Down the Rock,” “Phil Pash’s World of Wheels,” “Phil Pash’s Simply Sports,” “Phil Pash’s Great Outdoors” and “Phil Pash’s Sports Notes.” Schier did, however, allow Pash’s farewell column to readers to be published at the end of this article.

“As Editor Barth and I agree, any paper’s primary responsibility is honoring our readers’ trust,” Schier said. “Presenting material as one’s own that is actually another writer’s creation without proper attribution is a violation of that trust, a violation of this paper’s standards and a violation of the basic ethics of writing and journalism. As editor and publisher, I must uphold these basic standards without exception, no matter how uncomfortable that decision may be. I know our readers trust this paper to tell them the truth because they constantly tell us that in many circumstances. In keeping that trust, responsibility and accountability must be maintained, especially if that truth is unfortunately about ourselves.

“Copyrights and intellectual property must be avidly protected and never be treated casually,” Schier said. “Journalists must stand as an example to high school students, college students and all professions, and those with many years of experience under their keyboard’s belt should stand even taller.

“Unfortunately, recent ‘stories’ from even the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post, CBS and Newsweek have damaged the credibility of all media. This trend, and bowing to acrimonous personal and political pressure, must stop if respect and honesty are to survive as everyday values for the youngest MP3 downloaders and the oldest in newspapering.

“Again, I offer our apologies to the Beloit Day News, Editor Barth and especially Ms. Montgomery, just not as editor and publisher, but particularly as one writer to another,” Schier added.

About five and one-third paragraphs of Montgomery’s 13-paragraph article, “Locomotive shines at Pearl Lake,” were taken directly from Montgomery’s article and used in Pash’s column without attribution or quotation marks. That accounted for about four of the eight paragraphs of Pash’s “Pearl Lake Railroad” column.

Pash began the “Pearl Lake Railroad” portion of his “Up & Down the Rock” column as follows:

“Pearl Lake Resort near South Beloit, already known to scuba divers throughout the Midwest because of its gin-clear water for diving and attractions on the bottom, now is going to have its own railroad.

“We’re not talking about one of those kiddie railroads, but a full-sized effort with an electric locomotive and caboose, Pearl Lake owner Mike Witte confirmed to the Beloit Daily News.”

Although Pash mentioned the Beloit Daily News at the beginning of his piece, the next three paragraphs of his column, one other paragraph, and portions of another paragraph were taken directly from Montgomery’s Beloit Daily News article without attribution or quotation marks. Without attribution or quotation marks, there is no way readers could have known those portions of Pash’s column were taken directly from the Beloit Daily News.

What follows is a breakdown of the plagiarized portions of the Beloit Daily News article. The portions from Montgomery’s Beloit Daily News article are listed first, followed by the same portions from Pash’s “Up & Down the Rock” column:

Beloit Daily News: “A recently refurbished locomotive, a train engine saved from ruins as it sat on the nearby Elmhurst Sand and Gravel property, along with a soon-to-be refurbished caboose, are the first two links of the Pearl Lake Railroad.”

Pash’s column: “A recently refurbished locomotive, a train engine saved from ruins as it sat on the nearby Elmhurst Sand and Gravel property, along with a soon-to-be refurbished caboose, are the first two links of the Pearl Lake Railroad.”

Beloit Daily News: “The 1948 General Electric locomotive originally was owned by Elmhurst Sand and Gravel, and spent years moving sand and gravel in and around the old sand and gravel pit west of Pearl Lake. Witte bought it from the city a few years ago after city officials decided they wanted it removed from land given to them by the sand and gravel company.”

Pash’s column: “The 1948 General Electric locomotive originally was owned by Elmhurst Sand and Gravel, and spent years moving sand and gravel in and around the old sand and gravel pit west of Pearl Lake. Witte bought it from the city a few years ago after city officials decided they wanted it removed from land given to them by the sand and gravel company.”

Beloit Daily News: “He soon found himself getting in contact with local train enthusiasts in order to get the locomotive restored. A year later, the engine is in working order, has a fresh coat of paint, and even has a name.”

Pash’s column: “He soon found himself getting in contact with local train enthusiasts to get the locomotive restored. A year later, the engine is in working order, has a fresh coat of paint and even has a name…”

Beloit Daily News: “He secured a 1966 Soo Line caboose, which he found in Oxford, Wis.”

Pash’s column: “Witte also has secured a 1966 Soo Line caboose, which he found in Oxford, Wis.”

Beloit Daily News: “This one was created as a demonstration car by the company that built cabooses. Because it was never sold to a railroad company and was not used on the rails, it is in good condition and does not need to be restored. Brady and Witte expect to have the new caboose moved to Pearl Lake this month.”

Pash’s column: “This one was created as a demonstration car by the company that built cabooses. Because it was never sold to a railroad company and was not used on the rails, it is in good condition and does not need to be restored. Brady and Witte expect to have the new caboose moved to Pearl Lake this month.”

Beloit Dail

y News: “His next goal, once all three train cars are in working order and connected, will be to lay more train tracks with an ultimate goal of having a couple miles of tracks so the train can circle the campground. Witte would also like to add a Jenny car, which is used to make the Pearl Lake Railroad authentic to the area.”

Pash’s column: “The next goal, once all three train cars are in working order and connected, will be to lay more train tracks with an ultimate goal of tracks so the train can circle the campground. Witte also would like to add a Jenny car, which is used to haul sand and gravel, to make the Pearl Lake Railroad authentic to the area.”

Pash was in his 50th year as a working journalist. He previously served as sports editor of the Freeport Journal-Standard; two tours as assistant sports editor of the Rockford Morning Star/Rockford Register Star; motor sports columnist for Chicago Today; a correspondent and Sunday columnist for The New York Times; and a corespondent and monthly Illinois outdoor columnist for the Associated Press’s Chicago office. He began writing news and sports columns for The Rock River Times in January 2002.

Among his various credits and accomplishments, Pash was one of the first to interview Indy Racing League phenom and former Roscoe resident Danica Patrick when she was just a child.

What follows is Pash’s farewell column to readers.

50 Years Is Enough

By Phil Pash

The Beloit Daily News is not happy with me over the manner in which I presented their story about the Pearl Lake Railroad in this space (“Up & Down the Rock”) on June 15.

It was not my intention to “steal” the story, and in the second paragraph, I gave the Beloit paper credit for it: We’re not talking about one of those kiddie railroads, but a full-sized effort with an electric locomotive and caboose, Pearl Lake owner Mike Witte confirmed to the Beloit Daily News.

Everything from the paper I used in the item should have been in quotes so you—the reader—would know it was someone else’s work. I apologize for not doing that. I credited the source of the information as I have done on other column items, figuring that was enough.

Anyway, this presents a good opportunity to tell you this will be my last round of columns for The Rock River Times. Fifty years of writing for newspapers is quite enough, thank you.

It’s not because of the Beloit paper complaining to TRRT Editor and Publisher Frank Schier. No, I’ve been thinking about calling it a career for a while now. This is just a good time.

When I finally had had enough at the local daily and quit/retired in May 2000, I was a little lost because I was giving up my identity. I worked in the News Tower for 31 years, through thick and thin.

I sort of stumbled around for a while after that, answering want ads and even working at a couple of totally meaningless local jobs as a driver and bank messenger.

In that time period, I agreed to write for The Rock River Times, but on the day I was supposed to start, I backed out because it didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t until January 2002 that I actually started, and then I quit probably four to five times in the first 18 months. Frank and I had issues; still do.

I’ve been sending résumés to daily newspapers throughout the Midwest on and off for the last five years. Sort of testing the market (even sent one or two to the Beloit Daily News). Not much demand, though, for my credentials; only a handful even bothered to answer my e-mails.

Those credentials include:

Freeport Journal-Standard (left as sports editor).

Rockford Morning Star and Register-Republic (left as assistant sports editor).

Chicago Today (motor sports columnist on staff).

Beloit (Wis.) College (staff public relations and sports information).

The New York Times (correspondent, Sunday columnist, work distributed by NYT wires).

Rockford Register Star (came back as assistant sports editor, work distributed by Gannett wires).

Associated Press, Chicago office (correspondent, monthly Illinois outdoor column).

The Rock River Times, Rockford (columnist on general topics, outdoors, motor sports and sports).

I’ve also freelanced for a couple of other newspapers, including the now-defunct Chicago Daily News, and a bunch of magazines. Plus, I wrote a brief history of auto racing for Collier’s Encyclopedia (don’t know if it ever got published, but I got paid).

I could tell you all kinds of stories and regale you with tales about some of the major stories I’ve covered in 50 years of newspapering, but I’m not going to.

It doesn’t do a lot of good to thank a lot of people for some of my career breaks because many of them are dead, but I will, anyway: Ford Fuller at the Freeport paper, John Radosta of The New York Times and Rick Talley, for whom I worked at two different papers.

I don’t see a bright future for newspapers. Circulation has been declining steadily over the past decade as other forms of media compete for the attention of readers, including cable television and the Internet. The industry has been rocked by scandals over circulation figures and phony stories, and there is a mountain of arrogance at the top.

On June 30, 2004, I wrote this in this space: “Greed, folks, that’s what is at the root of it. Newspapers once could be looked at as community trusts, working for the betterment of their communities. Now, it’s all about making profits for the corporation, which, for most part, probably are run by the same kind of individuals who infected the financial world.”

It’s still true today.

Regardless, thank you for reading me for a half-century. It has been my privilege to write for you. Godspeed to all.

From the June 29-July 5, 2005, issue

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