Photo: Brunel University

The Plague of Plagiarism

It’s a strange feeling to read someone else’s work and recognise it as your own. I’ve never been burgled, but friends that have describe the sense of violation as being worse than the loss of property. As of yesterday, I think I know how they feel.

A friend in the industry posted an article about programming new music for broadcast radio. I hadn’t heard of the author, a US-based consultant named Tracy Johnson, but followed the link because music discovery – as many of you that read my articles or attend conferences I speak at will know – is an area I’m very focused on. I like to stay up to date by reading as much commentary as possible.

Tracy has an impressive website, appears to run a small team of consultants, and has a few books in the market about personality radio. By contrast, I’m a one-man operation, have only written one book to date, and focus exclusively on music radio – broadcast and webcast, linear and personalised. But essentially we’re both in the same business – radio consultancy.

So it was pretty galling to read Tracy’s post, entitled “Programmers: Find The Right Rotation for New Music on Your Station”, and recognise not just the ideas, but much of the phrasing, as having been lifted wholesale from an article I wrote in February called After Zane Lowe: Five More Things Internet Radio Should Steal From Broadcast.

For example, this cluster of sentences in Tracy’s piece:

“Music discovery, meaning those people actively seeking new music on the radio, is in the minority. It’s not mainstream. It’s niche.”

Obviously derives from this sentence in my Zane Lowe article:

“Music discovery, by which I mean people actively seeking out new music, is a niche pastime almost by definition.”

And this, from Tracy’s blog:

“Mainstream audiences – you know, those listeners that deliver more quarter hours, higher ratings and increased ad revenues – know what they like, and they like what they know.”

Clearly comes from this sentence in mine:

“Mainstream audiences – which is to say large audiences, the kind that deliver advertising dollars worth writing home about – know what they like, and they like what they know.”

And, not to get boring about it:

“The challenge is to play the hits and keep your station sounding fresh and exciting.”

Has been lifted from my work:

“The challenge for the radio programmer is keeping your output sounding fresh whilst grappling with this rather inconvenient but unavoidable fact [that mainstream listeners like what they know].”

I’m sure you get the point by now. I receive no credit or attribution in Tracy’s article. Tracy does present other ideas about music discovery in his piece, many of which I agree with, but given the provenance of the work cited above, one has to wonder where Tracy’s other ideas come from.

Because that’s what it’s about in the end – ideas. As radio consultants, they’re a huge part of what we have to offer prospective clients. They’re our calling cards. I share some of my ideas in writing or at conferences in the hope of demonstrating to potential clients that “there’s plenty more where that came from”.

So when someone steals them, it feels like they’re stealing – or trying to steal – your business. I think that’s pretty underhanded, and I think you owe me an apology Tracy. Twitter is probably the best place for that.

Image: Brunel University