Shaun King, the justice columnist for the New York Daily News, found himself on the defensive Tuesday when an editor at the Daily Beast publicly accused him of plagiarizing two paragraphs from a recent article by Daily Beast crime reporter Kate Briquelet. That accusation was quickly followed by another, concerning a recent piece by King that appeared to lift material from an article originally published by FiveThirtyEight.
King was ultimately vindicated, but not before experiencing a moment of abject panic. “I read what I submitted to my editors and I thought, ‘This dude at the Daily Beast is gonna get in a lot of trouble,’ ” King said in an interview. When King looked at the articles that had been published online, however, he realized that the attributions he’d included in his drafts had been stripped out. “At that point I was like, Oh my God,” King told me. “I was hurt. I was pissed. I was confused. I didn’t know why it had happened. And then people started saying, ‘You also did it here, and you also did it here.’ I said, some bullshit has gone down.”
Before long, King’s editors at the Daily News came to his defense and took the blame for the lack of attribution. King, for his part, took to his Facebook page, where he staged an ad hoc live press conference and posted screenshots of emails he had sent to his editors in which drafts of the stories in question could be seen in full. In those drafts, the supposedly plagiarized paragraphs were presented very clearly as fully attributed block quotes, complete with hyperlinks.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Daily News released a statement saying that an unnamed editor was responsible for stripping out the links and attributions from King’s drafts. That editor has now been fired.
King told me that when he started writing for the Daily News last fall, he was asked to file all his pieces as emails instead of sending them as attachments. It’s possible, King said, that when Daily News editors copied and pasted his drafts into the newspaper’s content management system, the block quotes he’d inserted were inadvertently stripped out. How the hyperlinks and attributions disappeared, however, he could not say.
King said he typically writes two articles per day for the Daily News website, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and sends them to a group of editors who then decide, amongst themselves, who will take the lead on shepherding them through to publication. “Traditionally, my editors will come back and say, ‘We’re not clear on what you’re saying here,’ and I say, ‘OK, let me tweak this or tweak that.’ Then they’ll say, ‘Good, we’re done,’ and it gets published.” At some point in the process, King added, the web copy team gets a crack at the piece but does not communicate with him about any changes they’ve made.
Why didn’t King notice that several of his pieces had been changed before publication? Because he does not typically read them after they’ve appeared online. He works fast, King said, knocking out his first story of the day between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and then spending a few hours posting about it on social media and engaging with readers. At that point, he said, “I’m in promotion mode. … I’m not thinking about editing.”
King said Tuesday’s scare will lead him to re-evaluate how he views the editing process. “It warrants saying, ‘We need to do this differently.’ I’m shell-shocked by it.”
Daily News editor-in-chief Jim Rich did not respond to an email asking which editor had been fired over the lapses in King’s published work. King said he did not know the person’s identity but that he did not suspect any malicious intent. “I’m really bummed that anybody got fired, man,” he said. “I could cry about that, because my gut is somebody was just in a big hurry.”
The Daily Beast’s Michael Moynihan tweeted that he spoke to the editor in question, and “He took 100% responsibility for the lack of attribution.”