Get in line if you want an answer to the question how many humour columnists does it take to change a lightbulb? I have a more pressing riddle: How many humour columnists can you fit in a lighthouse?
It’s a question I posed in an email to Steve Jeffrey, the former editor and proprietor of the Anchor Weekly in Chestermere, Alberta, Canada.
I say former editor because Mr Jeffrey has since offered his resignation after being caught red-handed for plagiarism.
In 2011 he purportedly wrote a column each week called Sittin’ in the Lighthouse — but it turns out he only actually wrote 10 of them all year. The rest he pilfered from a number of humour columnists from the US and little old me here in Canberra. He changed them ever so slightly — mainly to localise them -- and bunged his photo on top of them.
He used two of my old columns, Rebel with a Pause and Fame at Fortune Finds Me at Last, that I wrote in 2002 and 2003 and stupidly left posted on this web site where any Tom, Dick or Steve could cut and paste them and present them as their own work.
I am way, way, way behind in the stupidity stakes though.
Does Mr Jeffrey really think he can hide from the gaze of google? Does he know how easy to put in a length of text and see just who else has used it?
It’s so quick too. Heck, I just found out in a flash via google that Canberra is 10,181.2km from Calgary. You know what this means? It means we are 10,181.2km from the ga-ga land Mr Jeffrey inhabits.
The alarm was raised for me on Tuesday, March 27 in an email from a Californian writer who had gathered evidence on the plagiarism. Although the offending columns had been removed from the website, he had copies of google archives. Proof.
I dashed off an angry email to Mr Jeffrey and copied it to someone else senior listed on the newspaper. I also sent complaints to the two major Calgary newspapers and the Canadian Journalists Association — all addresses I found online.
This was not a co-ordinated attack but I assume the other humour writers did something similar. I know one complained to the Alberta Press Council which acted very quickly.
I know there will be some people who think this was all overkill.
And, yes, we are talking here about the light and fluffy department of newspapers.
But I think there is a much bigger picture to worry about.
Aside from being editor, Mr Jeffrey is also listed as proprietor of the Anchor Weekly which claims a print circulation of 10,000 and has its own web site.
If a very senior journalist thinks it is okay to plagiarise 41 humour columns, what else would he fabricate? Everything he has ever written — even the serious and important — must be regarded as suspect.
I have been around newspapers all my life, coming from the family of journalists and entering this industry nearly 35 years ago. I can’t guess at how many times I’ve heard: “You can’t believe anything you read in newspapers.”
How are we going to change perceptions unless we get rid of the bad apples in this industry?
The Calgary Herald ran a report of Mr Jeffrey’s resignation.
He told the paper in an email that he was resigning.
“I really don't have any way to defend myself. I did use articles for inspiration, but thought that I had changed the content enough to comply," he said.
I wrote those columns years ago and I’ve long since given up hope I’d make a dollar from them. Seeing as the Anchor Weekly carries advertising, perhaps they were more lucrative for him?
Tell you the truth, I’m quite chuffed I’ve now been read 10,181.2km away, even though there was absolutely no attribution to me but with my fervent hope nobody actually noticed his picture byline instead of mine.
Unlike the Calgary Herald, I have not heard back from Mr Jeffrey. Shame. I really wanted some answers.
“For your information,” I said in my email to him “I have never sat in a lighthouse in my life. It gives me vertigo — the same sick and queasy feeling I have right now over this issue.
“Incidentally, how much room is there in your lighthouse? I am informed that my two columns were among 41 you plagiarised from a string of hard-working columnists over the space of a year. Is there room for all us in the lighthous — bearing in mind I don’t want to be sick on anyone.”
The original Rebel with a Pause
The original Fame at Fortune Finds Me At Last
©2012, John Martin, Feel Free to Pinch This One Mr Jeffrey
If you liked this short column perhaps you'll like my new comic fiction novel, which has nearly 250 pages of laughs. Check out the first chapter here free