The Boca Raton News followed Stephanie Slater's article about Delray Beach police officer Vincent Balestrieri, who allegedly lied about going back to Iraq so he could collect some department dough. And there were a few, um, similarities between the story Boca News city editor Dale M. King wrote and Slater's original.
At least there was some grumbling at the Post to that effect, according to sources. I checked out the stories and saw what they were talking about. Here's a graph from Slater's article in the Palm Beach Post:
"Police also are looking into the bereavement and sick leave Balestrieri used from Dec. 31 through Jan. 5, around the time he was hired by Lockheed Martin. He told the department that his mother died, but detectives have been unable to confirm that, Messer said."
And here's the graph from King's
"Authorities are also looking into bereavement leave and sick time he took between Dec. 31 and Jan. 5. He reportedly told the department his mother had died, but detectives have been unable to confirm that."
Okay, that is close. Here's another little passage from Slater's article:
"Police confirmed that he served 13 years with the New York Police Department and had just finished a one-year stint as an intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He joined the Navy Reserve in 1998 and is an intelligence specialist as a first-class petty officer attached to U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Navy spokeswoman Diane Perry said. He trains there one weekend a month."
Here's King's approach on the same info:
"Police said Balestrieri served as a member of the New York Police Department for 13 years and had just finished a year as an intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He joined the Navy in 1998 and is an intelligence specialist as a first-class petty officer attached to the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa."
You get the picture. Now, I wouldn't call that plagiarism out of hand, but I would call it a blatant failure to cite. If you cite the publication, after all, you get away with listing the same facts in the same order. Damn it, if this blog should be of any use to reporters, I hope it is that it brings home this lesson: "When in doubt, cite."
Anyway I called up King, who is a busy man getting out a newspaper. And he wasn't happy to hear about the issues being raised about his follow-up.
"Stephanie e-mailed me about it and I just ignored it," King told me. "Look, I talked to the police and that's where I got my information. There's only one set of facts on something. Everybody's writing about the same set of incidents and there's only one set of facts. It's no big deal. It's probably Stephanie being a bitch which is what she's best at. All she does is write about cops -- I write about everything."
Okay, if that sounds a little personal, then you might want to know that Slater used to work with King at the Boca News. For my own two cents, I admire Slater's work a great deal and I don't agree at all with King's rather blunt characterization. King says he thinks she's gotten a little uppity since she was hired on at the Post. To each his own.
This sounds like King used Slater's story as a guide, got the facts confirmed by police, then banged out the story. It's not a capital offense. I told him that I thought he should have cited the Post story. He didn't agree.
"I look at all newspapers and I can't say where I got each sentence from the thing," he conceded. "I've seen other things that look like mine. I didn't copy her stuff."
And there you have it. It's a bit similar to a more serious and easily traceable offense that I wrote about a while back regarding another piece of Slater's being copied in Boca Raton Magazine. All I can say to Slater: You know what they say about imitation -- it's the sincerest form of flattery.