by Jon Worley
Regular readers may recall that I wrote a column about the circumstances surrounding the birth of my son Max. Even though that piece was written in the throes of extensive sleep deprivation and occasional hallucination, I think it turned out pretty well (if I might say so myself). Many of my friends (and some people I don't know) complimented me on it.
A bit of advice: If you compliment a writer once, you've made a lifelong friend. If you criticize them once, well...
Anyway, a person writing an article for the National Post (a nationwide Canadian newspaper) e-mailed me about a month ago. She said she was writing an article on necessary medical interventions, had found my column through a search engine and asked if she might interview me and my wife Barbara about Max's birth. As Barbara is a reporter herself, she didn't want to go "on the record." She's way too smart for that. As for me, well, I'll open my fool mouth to anyone who wants to listen. You might have guessed that already.
So anyway, the reporter called us up about a week after her e-mail and asked me a few questions. Then she talked to Barbara (on "background," which means no quotes or even direct paraphrases). She e-mailed after the interview to thank us and to get some more information (where we live, my occupation, etc.). I asked her to e-mail when the article ran. She said she would.
Rather, an old college friend shot me a note last week asking how it was that Barbara and I had become the subjects of a National Post story. I immediately went to the newspaper's web site and, after a bit of searching, found the piece.
During the interview the reporter told me the subject of her piece was necessary medical interventions in childbirth. I guessed that some of the things I said would be chopped up and presented so as to make me appear more pro-intervention than I truly am. I was right about that. But while I'm still leery of many medical interventions in birth, I do believe that the end goal should be a healthy mother and baby and that all necessary measures should be taken to ensure that goal. So that bit of steering my quotes was fine with me.
What I wasn't ready for was the writer's wholesale use of my prose. This is how my Feb. 17 column began:
Barbara and I had it all planned out. We spent seven Sunday evenings at Bradley childbirth classes. We read countless books. We practiced all sorts of massage and relaxation techniques. We were going "natural," no doubt about it.
And this is how the article in the National Post began:
Barbara and Jon Worley were prepared: a midwife, a month-and-a-half of childbirth classes, massage and relaxation training, a birth plan.
When it was time for their first child to be born, there was no question.
They were "going natural."
It's not plagiarism. Not exactly. But it is lazy writing on the part of the reporter. I'm happy to know that my prose is worthy of imitation. It's truly flattering. I still like my version better, mind you, and since the reporter used so much of it, I wish she'd just quoted from (and credited) my original piece.
The reporter made some silly mistakes as well. She said we live in Raleigh. We live in Durham (just like I said in my e-mail to her). She also got certain parts of the labor and delivery story wrong (I guess she didn't check back against my piece for everything). I don't really care all that much about those things.
Except for the living in Raleigh part. I mean, everyone knows Raleigh is a dull, if well-meaning, city. Look at all the Stanley Cup Finals coverage. Durham, on the other hand, is funky. A place where artists and smack bunnies swap needles and personal cheese. You know, a really, really cool place to live.
What really cheeses me off, though, is the use of my words (or most of them, anyway) without any credit. It's one thing if some kid putting out a zine with his own buckage steals something I've written (I have documentation of this happening literally dozens of times). The thing is, the kid in question is usually decent enough to credit Aiding & Abetting (if a music piece) or Shut up, I'm talking (if a column) and give a link to the web site. Often they ask ahead of time. I always grant permission. An unfamous writer needs all the publicity he or she can get.
And when my stuff (or a close approximation) appears all across Canada, I want my due. Not money. Just a sentence saying that I wrote a piece about Max's birth, and that much of the information about Barbara, Max and me contained in the news story appeared first in that SUIT column.
Either that or for the writer to have written her own damn lead and spared me the dubious self-righteous indignation that I'm sputtering forth right now.
As a self-admitted media whore who can't get enough of seeing his name in print, I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer the first option. How cool would it be to have all of Canada paging through the SUIT columns? Pretty damned cool.
All I want is universal recognition of my brilliance and my name set in lights. Is that so much to ask?