I have noticed something a little disturbing. Well, perhaps not terribly unusual- may actually be a standard in the world of publicists for all I know- but still disconcerting. What is this? The copying of another person’s article or release as framing for your own work.
I’m not talking necessarily plagiarism- oftentimes, the original writer is cited someplace, in a terribly unobtrusive way. Sometimes, the story was paid for from a news service. Certainly not Plagiarism. And in the general population, it would be nothing.
But what I’m talking about isn’t just in the general public, general sphere. It’s used by the people who are supposed to be our defenders- without checking that the article or release’s approach is appropriate. It’s one thing to link to an article that has appeared elsewhere. I’ve done it, even when the article in question irritated me. But to run it under your letterhead, or to purchase it for distribution, is something else entirely.
Let me use an example that came through my inbox today:
I got a forward that was originally distributed by the people Organizing the Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore, Md this week. I was a bit upset by the approach that the article in the email used, so I started to check them out. From their website, they looked interesting. Lots of talking up about bringing in community living, self advocates, etc. (I’d love to hear from anyone who is better familiar with them and their reputation among self advocates; firstname.lastname@example.org)
But talking up isn’t unusual even in organizations that aren’t so supportive. It is a tough lesson to learn- one that might make an advocate, particularly one that has ASD related issues, bitter. But many organizations assume token language usage, alongside the more obvious issue of token representation. Not being sure what to think, I plugged the Lede into google.
I discovered a couple of things. It turned out to have been originally written for the Raleigh News & Observer. As a general news source, the treatment in the article was typical, though frustrating. And it isn’t unheard of for companies the size of their owner, McClatchy, to sell distribution rights (McClatchy-Tribune). All perfectly normal in the industry.
What bothers me is how many groups- and the sort of groups- have reprinted the article as is. Some do so in a way that clearly shows- albeit at the end of the article- that it was retrieved from a distributor, like Behavioral Health Central. NAMI- for all the issues I have with them- doesn’t even host the full article, and instead links the reader to the News-Observer’s site to read the full article. All of these have various levels of appropriateness in distributing this article. As much as it personally pains me, NAMI’s approach was the most appropriate.
But back to the email I received. This is how it started (where a byline might be):
And here’s the bottom (where the full information is given on Behavioral Health Central):
Someone who is familiar with journalism or publicity might think to google the lede. But my guess is that the majority of readers won’t- maybe their background is in social work, or maybe they are parents. I know the org that forwarded this to me has a primary family base. To these “average” people, the language would appear to be authorized by the distributing organization.
My opinions on the article itself can be found in my last post. I disliked the perspective. But when a non-profit or other organization promotes an article- especially with such limited sourcing- counter to the interests of the population they claim to serve, there is an ethical problem.
Now, that was just one example- one that was specifically centered on a journalistic article that was distributed without proper sourcing.
But the problem is vaster than that. I have seen publicists copy over releases from government agencies to give context to the information their client is trying to get out. While giving context is an important step, that context needs to be in the language and perspective consistent with the organization you are representing. It is both lazy and unethical to refrain from copy editing the entirety of what you put out there to be consistent. And if a publicist were to submit something this way to a professor in college, they would most likely receive a reprimand.
I have a proposition. Why don’t we all take a moment to find some standards as to what we do and don’t put out there. Here are my suggestions:
1) When distributing an article, source clearly. Don’t cut out the original distributor. Use bylines in their customary place. I would even prefer that the sourcing be put in the by line. EX: “Michael Biesecker for the Raleigh News Observer.” But even putting the sourcing clearly at the end (EX: “Originally published in the Raleigh News Observer”) is at least consistent with Journalistic standards.
2) Use language consistent with the organizations/people we represent. While there does need to be a recognition of the language and views of the public, that doesn’t make it okay to use language inconsistent- or even opposed- to the organization or people. Instead, use it as a chance to promote their language and views, even if only subtly.
3) If creating context, don’t simply copy and paste someone else’s release for it. First of all, it’s lazy and bad work. Secondly, it limits your ability to promote who or what you you are supposed to. And occasionally, it might promote things that are *unwanted* instead.
Sins Invalid is a performance group focusing on disability and sexuality, with a centering on People of color and queer artists. We had Leroy, Maria, and Antoine live- One of Antoine’s performances is available on Youtube, if you care to watch. As for samples of Maria and Leroy’s works, Maria’s My Vagina Manifesto and Leroy’s Man to Man Talk.
The performance last saturday was amazing. But more than that, it was thought provoking- in a way transgressive as much effective art is. I was very moved, and did end up typing something up (couldn’t express and speak at the same time) and showing Maria and Leroy at different points later in the evening. It was in essence this:
Society does not make a space to see us, and no one has told us to make a parting in that fabric to emerge alive and proud in our community. I am made sad by the thought- the thought that so much beauty is denied because there has been no one to say “Come Come come forward and up. We are all community.” That inclusion and acceptance is so *transgressive*.
I think that to think- really think- about this is something challenging, but also transformative. Then, I think that that is kinda the point of transgressive art- to provoke a transformation of thought that might nto otherwise happen, or at least won’t happen so soon.
So think: What is it that makes inclusion and acceptance so transgressive? What is it that offends so much that we are made invisible, unseen in our local communities? Why?
And How can we make a transformation in our world- to create an artistic venture, if you will- that takes us from a transgression to fact?
First, some Personal News: I’m the new Assistant Director for AWA-Pa Alongside the wonderful AspieTeach, our Director for PA. Please check out the site and let me or her know If you have news or resources for women on spectrum in PA!
Also in the Positive, The Rethinking Autism “Autistics Speak” video (My post is here) Is getting a lot of response. My biological father and I talked today, And he’s been showing it to people at work, friends, and Even his Therapist. They even used it as a way to prompt discussion is session.
In a broader sense, Rethinking Autism has been getting some community Media Exposire. AWA Radio had Dana on, and she’s scheduled for Mad as A Hatter (air date might vary, V’s been ill). If you have a media outlit, please consider asking Dana on! I’ve had several people tell me they’d love to see Rethinking Autism’s latest video have a broader Audience, and I know Dana would love that as well! After all, our message is meant for everyone, not just the Autistic community.
And now, Numbers games:
a couple of articles are out about statistics in the Autism Community. One news Study claims we are at 1 in 91 US kids on the spectrum. This, of course, is including the entire spectrum. What is interesting about these new studies is that previously, we had claimed to have a lower prevalence (1 in 150) than other countries (UK claims 1 in 100).
Another Study Claims the numbers are at 1 in 110 and which has been covered by Left Brain/Right Brain. It should be noted that this was based on parent reports of behavior received via Phone surveys- not the most scientific way of collecting data. It’s imprecise, but it certainly gives us a lot of leads for future studies that will hopefully involve more reliable data collection. Also, some of the parents claimed that their children are no longer on spectrum, which raises further questions. I reccomend the above linked article for a good analysis of this study. (USA Today also covered this story.)
Speaking of all these numbers, left Brain/Right Brain have a good question- Do We Need an Epidemic for People to Take Autism Seriously? This post is a well written and detailed look at the numbers and epidemic centered tactics used by various groups, and comes away with an answer- No, and Epidemic language might even defeat the purpose. Definitely recommend this one.