Cycling News Plagiarism – Rant

Nov 18 2005

So, on my update from this past Wednesday, I made a fairly serious accusation of plagiarism against VeloNews. Now, because I tend to assail that publication with all manner of polemic, and because I dealt with it only in passing (just by linking), it may not have received the close examination it deserved. Because this sort of thing makes me angry, and because I am apparently an official journalist now, I’m going to go over it in detail now. For reference, the two articles, from Cyclingnews and VeloNews, respectively, are located here (scroll to “ProTour council”) and here.

Let’s examine the first paragraph of each document. Here’s Cyclingnews:

The UCI’s ProTour council [sic] has formally rejected a request from the organisers of the Giro d’Italia to run two half-stages on the final day of the 2006 Giro.

And now VeloNews:

The UCI’s ProTour Council shot down plans for a final split-stage proposed as part of the 2006 Giro d’Italia, saying rules don’t allow for more than one stage to be held a day in ProTour races.

So, I guess you could argue that the second version adds that “saying rules don’t allow…” bit, and thus it’s more than a mere copy of the first. But look at the way each article starts. Those sentences are dangerously similar; sure, some words have been exchanged (“rejected” for “shot down”, “plans” for “a request”), but the similarity is very close. Not convinced? Let’s read on.

Giro organiser RCS had planned a split final day, with an 11km mountain time trial on the Ghisallo, to celebrate the inauguration of the Ghisallo museum on the same day. The time trial was to be followed by a 116km road stage into Milan.

That’s Cyclingnews’ version. Now here’s VeloNews’:

On Saturday, Giro race organizers announced the route for the 2006 edition that included a final stage with a morning 11km time trial on the Ghisallo climb and a 116km road finale into Milan.

This is perhaps the most glaring example. Remove “Giro”, “RCS”, and the clause about the dedication of the Ghisallo museum, and these paragraphs are completely identical. Compare how each paragraph ends. Swapping the word “stage” with the word “finale” does not constitute composing original material. The Velonews version even reads better, because the prepositional phrase about the morning stage is in a more logical location; too bad it’s not actually their work.

The next two paragraphs are far less flagrant. Here’s the excerpt from Cyclingnews:

Split stages in grand tours are not allowed under UCI rules but RCA [sic] director Angelo Zomegnan has been taking a conciliatory tone on the issue of the split stage. “This is a suggestion not a provocation,” said Zomegnan.

When it became clear that the idea of a split final day was unlikely to be received well by the riders and the ProTour, Zomegnan told Italian media, “If the UCI doesn’t give us the permission to carry on with it, we will find another way to honour the mountain and its museum.”

And here’s the one from VeloNews:

The decision came after sharp criticism from the Italian cycling riders federation as well as other riders, who insist the 2006 Giro finale was too demanding after such a long and challenging course.

Giro race organizer Angelo Zomegnan downplayed the snub, telling the Italian media it was a “suggestion, not a provocation,” but it seems the course will be likely changed.

Now, had the entirety of these news blurbs been so divergent, I would have found no fault with VeloNews. Andrew Hood, the journalist credited with the VeloNews article, did well to move the alleged rules violation the opening sentence, and to split the rider dissent into a separate paragraph. His omission of the Giro organizers’ will to “honour the mountain and its museum” is to be expected, since he decided earlier in the piece to leave out mention of the Ghisallo church/museum atop the climb. Hood even reads a different tone into the quotation than the Cyclingnews editors, choosing to say Zomegnan “downplayed” the objections, rather than “[took] a conciliatory tone” (though it’s debatable whether this constitutes good journalistic practice).

Unfortunately, the concluding paragraphs are, once again, near-verbatim. First, Cyclingnews:

If the ProTour council’s ruling extends to other ProTour stage races, then the Tour of the Basque Country, which has traditionally finished with a split stage, will also have to change its schedule.

Now, VeloNews:

The decision will also likely affect the Tour of the Basque Country, which has also traditionally ended its April race with a split stage.

Simply unreal. The same use of a relative clause (“which has…”), the use of the same adverb (“traditionally”) to modify the nearly-identical main verbs (“finished”, “ended”) of those clauses, the use of the same English translations for “Vuelta a Pais Vasco;” it’s difficult to come up with a more sterling example of things to avoid if you do not want to be labeled a plagiarist. If these two articles had been handed in as assignments in college, there’s no question in my mind that Mr. Hood would have been standing tall before The Man within a week. It’s pretty clear that the Cyclingnews article was published first, as, due to Cyclingnews’ location just west of the International Date Line, “First Edition Cycling News” for any given date is actually published on the previous day at VeloNews HQ in Boulder, CO. Each article claims the same publication date, 16 November 2005.

Now, maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Cosmo, you Ivory Tower nitwit, the rules are different in the journalistic world.” And that is very true; with so many news outlets, there’s bound to be some overlap between stories covering the same event. But what we have here is plagiarism by any definition. I think it’s evident well beyond any doubt that the VeloNews article was written based entirely upon the earlier Cyclingnews story.* And that would be just fine, if Mr. Hood had simply acknowledged his source. It’s a crying shame, too, because, as the numerous [sic] notations in the Cyclingnews version indicate, the VeloNews version was a much cleaner write-up.

*Andrew Hood has since responded, claiming that both stories came from the same source (this article in French daily L’Equipe), but having examined that piece, I find information not included in it that appears in both Cyclingnews’ and Velonews’ reports. At any rate, the translation from French into English should make the textual similarities between the two reports examined here virtually impossible unless some form of copying was involved; compare both to Eurosport’s version for an example of dissimilar text.

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