They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Well, I suppose so, but it is also a bit infuriating, as we found out at the Daily Inter Lake last week when the Washington Post came very close to flattering us to death.
Our reporter Mackenzie Reiss had done an excellent report last Sunday on the 50th anniversary of the bear maulings that became known as “The Night of the Grizzlies,” and we were excited a few days later to see that the Washington Post had picked it up to use on their own website.
Well, not exactly.
The Post story had the same photo we had been given by our main source, and it began with virtually the same tale told by that source, former ranger Bert Gildart. If you missed the byline by Washington Post reporter Karin Brulliard, you would swear they were the same story. They even reached the same conclusion — that the attacks had “spurred a drastic change in bear management nationwide,” as our story said, or “revolutioniz[ed] how public agencies deal with bears,” as the Washington Post reporter had it.
The joke going around the newsroom was that The Washington Post liked our story so much that they rewrote it, and put their own byline on it. Call it “repurposing,” but no, it was not the same story, nor to be clear was there any evidence of plagiarism. It’s certainly possible that the similarity between the two stories was entirely coincidental. Stranger things have happened, so let’s just say that it was an infuriating case of a bigger paper swooping in and reporting for a national audience on a story that we had already “owned.”
It wasn’t even the most infuriating case of that happening to us. Back in 1999, the Inter Lake had devoted a team of reporters and photographers, led by our features editor Lynnette Hintze, to getting to the bottom of the asbestos crisis in Libby. While in Libby, Lynnette learned that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was also working on an investigation, which spurred us into high gear.
We published our special report on Nov. 14, 1999, under the title “Fall From Grace,” and received considerable attention for our work in Northwest Montana. Then on Nov. 18, 1999, the Post-Intelligencer’s report “A Town Left to Die” came out, and it was as if our reporting did not exist.
This quote from www.pbs.org is typical:
“In 1999, journalist Andrew Schneider heard a tip about a small Montana town where people were dying by the dozens. He broke the story of asbestos poisoning in Libby on the pages of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, bringing nationwide attention to the threat.”
While it is true that his stories brought nationwide attention to the health crisis, it is not true that he “broke the story.” The Inter Lake’s comprehensive report came out four days before Schneider’s first story. Schneider, who died earlier this year, was a great reporter, and no one wants to take anything away from him, but it would be appreciated if other reporters would get the story straight.
As for “The Night of the Grizzlies,” it’s a story that will be told and retold for generations. In fact, Great Falls Tribune reporter Sarah Dettmer turned out her own story last week as well. She also talked to Bert Gildart and used some of the same photos we used, but her story took a fresh approach to the familiar material. Good job.
If you didn’t read Mackenzie Reiss’s original story, you can find it online at http://www.dailyinterlake.com/article/20170729/ARTICLE/170729871. In addition, I recommend her follow-up story on today’s front page to you as well, in which she further details exactly how the management of grizzly bears has changed in the past 50 years.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.