Massachusetts Paper Fires Sportswriter for Plagiarism

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By: Joe Strupp

The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette fired sportswriter Ken Powers late Thursday for plagiarizing elements of a Sports Illustrated Web story in his column published last Sunday.

In a statement, the paper also announced that an investigation indicated he had apparently plagiarized material for previous columns and stories.

“Ken Powers’ column on January 30 did not constitute his own work,” the statement said. “He does not dispute that. Further investigation has revealed that this was not an isolated incident and that he has previously used the work of others without proper attribution. We have terminated his employment and our investigation into his past work continues.”

Editor Harry Whitin told The Boston Globe that at least a half-dozen Powers stories dating back to September had been found to have included elements from various Web sites.

Powers responded by claiming his firing was unjustified. “I am disappointed that a 20-year spotless record doesn’t mean anything,” he told Boston station WBZ-TV. “The termination is a terrible injustice to me.”

Kathy Shaw, unit chair of the Worcester Unit of the Providence Newspaper Guild Local 31041, would not condemn or offer support for Powers, saying in a statement, “Plagiarism is a serious charge for any journalist and The Newspaper Guild takes it seriously. … We see this as a sad end to a 20-year career.”

Powers, a 20-year Telegram & Gazette employee, had been the paper’s Patriots beat writer for five years.

In a Telegram & Gazette story published Friday, Whitin said he and other editors involved in the probe were “very mindful of trying to get a clear understanding of how this could have happened. There was never any doubt that this was plagiarism. In itself, plagiarism is a cardinal sin of journalism. But we wanted to examine any mitigating or extenuating circumstances, and in the end, I was really left with no alternative. We concluded that it did not result from a computer error or glitch.”

Whitin added that, by plagiarizing, Powers “broke our compact with our readers and violated one of the core principles of journalism.” The editor said he chose to fire Powers instead of suspending him because of the nature of the offense and the discovery of other uses of others’ material without attribution. That material came primarily from football teams and National Football League Web sites, the T&G reported.

Whitin and Sports Editor David Greenslit met twice this past week for several hours each time with Powers and Shaw during the investigation. Whitin said 19 Sunday columns written by Powers since Sept. 12, were being reviewed.

Powers’ firing came three days after he was summoned to return from the pre-game activities at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., where the New England Patriots are playing the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The paper received a tip Monday from two readers suggesting that Powers’ Sunday column might have included elements of a Peter King column posted on the SI.com Web site on Jan. 24. Within hours, Powers was on a plane back to Massachusetts and the paper began an investigation into the charges. The column was also removed from the paper’s Web site.

King had reportedly called Whitin earlier in the week upon hearing of the investigation and asked him to be leniant on Powers. Members of the Patriots organization also called on Powers’ behalf to urge compassion, the T&G reported.

Powers, who has not responded to E&P’s requests for comment, had been placed on paid leave until the investigation was completed.

Editors have said Powers had never had an ethics problem in the past, noting “he has a spotless record.” Powers, who had once weighed nearly 400 pounds, gained notice in 2001 for losing weight following gastric bypass surgery and writing several columns about it.

“The sports department has taken a big hit, professionally and personally,” Greenslit said in Friday’s T&G. “But we are a proud bunch. We’ll learn from this, pick up the pieces, and move on.”

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