April 11, 2007

Couric's library piece sounded odd to me

Katie Couric’s "In the Stacks" notebook commentary from April 4 about children and libraries intrigued me, since I’m interested in children reading, public libraries, and technology. After hearing the piece on the First Light radio program early in the morning, the commentary stuck with me while I was more awake. I try to keep up on information about these topics as a library advocate and patron, high tech parent, and reviewer of children’s books. Since I was not familiar with the study she mentioned, I wanted to find Couric’s source. I checked the web looking for it. After viewing the video on the CBS website, I noticed she didn’t cite a specific study. In further research, I found Jeff Zaslow’s column, "Of the Places You'll Go, Is the Library Still One of Them?" which mentioned similar material.

For his Wall Street Journal’s online Career Journal.com column, Zaslow interviewed several people and referred to sources to back up his claim that children are using libraries less for books and more for technologies, but that they’re buying more books. I emailed him for the exact source connecting children, libraries and technology. He responded quickly with the materials.

I’m not in complete agreement with how Zaslow interprets the library focus group study cited in his column. But that’s ok. There’s another study that is a more solid report on how people are using libraries, which is even more revealing. Check out Households’ Use of Public and Other Types of Libraries: 2002 published by the National Center for Education Statistics out of the U.S. Department of Education published in January 2007. I hope to comment on it in another post.

Zaslow is a well-known reporter. His piece was on the Wall Street Journal website, not some obscure publication by an unknown writer. So it’s particularly odd that those who are putting together the CBS Evening News believed no one would see the connection between what they wrote for Couric and what Zaslow wrote. To be fair, since I never saw the written version of Couric’s piece until today, I didn’t completely comprehend how word-for-word it was. Just that it seemed quite similar.

Zaslow and WSJ have been gracious about noting the plagiarism, which is professional and impressive.

When I was a college journalism professor, I emphasized the serious nature of plagiarism to my students. Unfortunately, some of the students learned the hard lesson that I do take it seriously. I hope they were saved from worse problems later in life, like the one the unnamed producer is learning. I hope that person can recover with grace.

I am surprised at how much Couric, listed as the program's managing editor, trusts her staff.

Why isn’t an editor checking over producers’ stories? Someone should have asked the producer the source of the information. There are no definite sources mentioned, which was what clicked with me in the first place. I know the commentary is just over a minute, but that’s enough time to cite a source.

I appreciate how Katie Couric seems to be growing into her job at CBS. But this offense is both sad and revealing about Couric and the staff at the evening news. Maybe they’re short staffed. Maybe they’re not following up really well. I hope they can solve the problems. I want to support a woman anchor on the evening news.

Here's perhaps the most complete story on the Couric issue as reported in Newsweek/MSNBC.

Check out the "Finding My Voice" blog with a good perspective on why the CBS Evening News has a real problem.

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