Something We Don’t Talk About Here Really

Let it not be said that we here at Smart Bitches don’t address the idea that using someone else’s words without attribution is a big, funk-stanky, bad, bad, bad idea. I know we don’t talk about unattributed usage much at all here, but if you’re interested: if one is a newspaper sex columnist, and one uses someone else’s writing under one’s own byline, it’s not what Martha Stewart would call a “good thing.”

Jezebel has revealed that New York Press sex advice columnist Claudia Lonow used questions from a 2006 Dan Savage sex column in her debut column.

From the Poynter Forums:

It has come to our attention that some of the questions in this week’s debut of the New York Press’s new sex-advice column, “Lip Service,” were taken from past columns by Dan Savage, the nationally-syndicated sex-advice columnist and editor of The Stranger. The author of the column, Claudia Lonow, a television writer based in Los Angeles who had not previously written for a newspaper, used the questions to provide material for her inaugural column, in the absence of real questions from readers. It had been our understanding that the questions for her first column came from friends. She has told us she was unaware that using questions from Savage’s column was a breach of journalism ethics. She has offered her resignation, and we’ve accepted it. We apologize to our readers, and to Dan Savage, for this error in judgment.

Wow. A breach of ethics.

Thanks to Jessica D for the link.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    snarkhunter says:

    Totally off-topic, but I just pimped you guys at Jezebel today over their Harlequin/Mills & Boon Bollywood post. Too many of the commenters (with one notable exception—no idea what she goes by here) were all, “Ugh! Romance! Trash!”

    So I sent them all over here. :)

    (Verification word: coming23) Ha!

  2. 2
    azteclady says:

    Well, it does put paid to the moronic, “it only happens in romance—‘cause, you know, all romance novels are the same.”

    But it’s sad.

  3. 3

    Sigh.  What the hell is wrong with people?

  4. 4

    She has told us she was unaware that using questions from Savage’s column was a breach of journalism ethics

    Big shocker there—but do you really need to know Journalism to realize that using someone else’s ‘copy’ is, well, “wrong”.

    My word: easy69

  5. 5
    JaimeK says:


    That is all I can say.

    Well, no, that’s not true…how could she not bloody well know?

    Did any of these people we have been talking about lately go to school? Sheesh – I am shaking my head in disgust.  Crap, freakin’ common sense should tell you copying anything from someone else is just not okay.

  6. 6
    Marta Acosta says:

    Freelance writing books advise aspiring columnists to make up questions “from readers” when they start out their columns. 

    This seems to be a different situation from CE’s.  Did Dan Savage write those questions to himself?  She didn’t take the responses.

    Whatever the case, I do think a writer for a major metropolitan rag can get legitimate questions easily enough.  To my knowledge this country is not suffering from a dearth of weird and intriguing sex questions.

  7. 7
    Rhonda Leigh says:

    Ouch. Interviewing friends would be so much more interesting. Questions are the EASIEST part of journalism. I can come up with interview questions with both hands tied behind my back. It’s a kinky sort of journalism I practice…

  8. 8
    Charlene says:

    It happens all the time in journalism, but in the best papers it’s handled well. The fact that the editor first brushed aside charges of plagiarism by calling the accuser a prude is beyond the pale.

  9. 9

    Coming soon from Signet:

    Dan Savage Obsession
    Dan Savage Innocence
    Dan Savage Heart
    Dan Savage Torment
    Dan Savage Paradise
    Dan Savage Secrets
    Dan Savage Surrender
    Dan Savage Eden
    Dan Savage Splendor
    Dan Savage Whispers
    Dan Savage Bliss
    Dan Savage Dream
    Dan Savage Dance
    Dan Savage Persuasion
    Dan Savage Promise
    Dan Savage Mists
    Dan Savage Sunrise
    Dan Savage Pride

    Collect them ALL!

  10. 10
    Jennie says:

    With all the public apologies & “I didn’t know it was wrongs” floating about, you’d think someone would get a clue and double/triple check to be sure that their own work doesn’t fall under the umbrella of plaigerism.

  11. 11
    Poison Ivy says:

    The time-honored tradition when you have to make up letters for a column (and I’ve had to) is to solicit dopey questions from your friends or coworkers, give them funny nicknames and even funnier fake address cities, and then write something original.

    Original. That’s the key here.

  12. 12
    jessica says:

    How can you not *know* that it’s wrong? Did you not go to college, journalism school? At some point somewhere someone must have said that copying other people’s work is wrong. Banging my head againg a wall in utter disbelief at this.

  13. 13
    Delia says:

    She should have gone all the way and stolen his answer, too.

  14. 14
    lalaland13 says:

    Hey snarkhunter! Here I am. I generally lurked over here, but what the heck. Nice seeing you.

    I think some Jezzies probably read romance novels but didn’t want to admit it. It’s a hard thing to fight, and why I love this site. And we weren’t the only ones. I think there were a couple others, but they sort of half-apologized for it even as admitting it. Which I used to do.

  15. 15
    Ocy says:

    This… has me completely bewildered.  She stole questions?  Surely there are enough of those floating around.  I can undersand she might not have the letters rolling in yet for a new column, but even if you’re going to use another column for inspiration, wouldn’t you think it would be the smart course to take maybe one question, alter it a bit, and go that route?  Y’know, rather than going for the plagiarism route.

    But hey, what do I know?  I’m no journalist.

  16. 16
    Robin says:

    See, to me the significant part of this story is that the woman RESIGNED (read: the paper agreed to let her leave with some dignity).  Wow, consequences and personal responsibility—I’m feeling all wistful now.

  17. 17
    lyricalfool says:

    I’m starting to think that maybe editors would be better off using like college professors do.

    All of this “I didn’t know it was wrong to steal someone else’s words…and paragraphs…and pages…and icky jokes…” is really, truly laughable.

  18. 18
    talpianna says:

    Is Dan Savage any relation to Doc Savage?  Or to me, for that matter? (Granddaughter of Leon E. Savage)

    easy25 neither is correct

  19. 19
    Teddypig says:

    You know that kinda pisses me off.

    Dan Savage has a husband and kid at home.

    His advice is in your face and yeah, can be rather blunt. He has always struck me as a decent family oriented guy on a personal level.

    Most of these mainstream publishers who are quote “Family Friendly” would not pick him up in a million years.

    But hell, they would rip him off!

  20. 20
    Harlequin says:

    E. Ann Bardawill – brilliant!! :-D

  21. 21
    Melissa says:

    She has told us she was unaware that using questions from Savage’s column was a breach of journalism ethics.

    Hellllllllllllllo!  What journalism program did she sleep through?  Or did she buy her degree from a diploma mill?  My hubby was a journalism major, and his school pounded it very firmly into his head that copying without permission is WRONG.  They also had a whole class about journalism ethics.  Any reputable program should too.  Her saying “I didn’t know” is no excuse.

  22. 22
    SB Sarah says:

    Melissa – Lonow was a child actress on Knots Landing – which I didn’t watch so I had no idea who she was when I first read the article. I don’t think she went to j-school.

    However, I didn’t either, and I would like to think I know better.

  23. 23
    robinb says:

    Love me some Dan Savage!

  24. 24

    Dan Savage Dance?

    *weird kinky mental images along the lines of “Dance, monkey, dance!”*

    No, no, no…

  25. 25
    AR says:

    I bet if all you folks read a novel in which the protagonist makes a similar mistake, does the right thing afterwards, loses her means of living, and has to deal with the consequences…you’d be rooting for her.

  26. 26
    azteclady says:

    I don’t know, AR. There is such a beast as the TSTL heroine, you know? Sometimes you just can’t sympathize with her *shrug*

    You can pity her, though—those are not mutually exclusive as far as I know.

  27. 27
    Charlene says:

    From what I see here, Claudia Lonow didn’t screw up. Screwing up is making a mistake. She deliberately stole. That’s not a mistake: that’s a moral error.

    I still don’t see why the New York Press hired some starlet/TV writer to write the sex column when there are thousands of qualified psychologists and journalists looking for work.

  28. 28

    The real sad thing is, she could’ve been up front about it, and maybe asked Mr. Savage for permission to reprint the questions (or maybe for ones he wasn’t going to use) and accomplished the same thing, without the whole resignation part.

  29. 29
    Poison Ivy says:

    Evidently the publication has a history of hiring and firing their sex columnists rapidly (five or six in a year?).

    Possibly this fiasco will tip someone off there that the man who has been doing the hiring needs to get a clue. Either he does not know how to hire the right person, or he does not know what he really wants the person to do.

    Hiring a celebrity is a cute idea but you do have to assume that most actors spent their school years in front of their mirrors.

  30. 30
    AR says:

    azteclady: I guess you’re right…it depends on how someone ends, yes? And I guess I don’t have anything to say to that. Wrongdoing is wrongdoing…I just always feel bad for the people who are stupid enough to do wrong. I mean, we all do self-destructive things but some of us do them in ways that get us in trouble with other people. Like the kids you see getting arrested on COPS. I just cringe.

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