Forget two months without Ron Borges. When the Boston Globe's latest plagiarism scandal subsides, the lasting impact could be a major change in the way the paper’s sports-notes columnists — Borges for football, Peter May for basketball, Kevin Paul Dupont for hockey, and Nick Cafardo for baseball — do their business every week.
In case you missed it, Borges — a much-read, much-reviled football writer who also covers boxing — was suspended without pay for two months on March 5, after the Web site ColdHardFootballFacts.com revealed that he’d recycled material from a Tacoma News Tribune item in his March 4 “Football Notes.” The official announcement of Borges’s suspension, which was posted on Boston.com Monday evening, reported that Borges subscribes to “an online notes exchange used by NFL writers, who share information with one another in advance of Sunday notebook columns that run in many newspapers.”
When Globe sportswriters Peter Gammons and Will McDonough launched their baseball and football notes columns a few decades back, of course, the Internet didn't exist — and the broad freedom accorded notes columnists meant something else entirely. There was no online cache of shared information to access, and you couldn’t Google your way to a column. Instead, Gammons and McDonough — both of whom were exceedingly knowledgeable and well-connected — had to do some serious reporting. Borges’s column closes with this disclaimer: "Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report."
After Borges was suspended, sports blogger Dan Shanoff argued that the whole notes-exchange practice should be stopped. “At best,” Shanoff wrote, “this is lazy journalism. (In the online age, how hard is it to find this stuff yourself? Reporters don’t need to travel any further than their laptop or reach out to any sources beyond ‘Google’ to be on their way. At worst, this is fraud, if not plagiarism (unless you’re Borges, and you simply seem to cut-and-paste entire passages from the exchange).”
Shanoff’s got a point. For now, though, the Globe isn't ready to go quite that far, though sports editor Joe Sullivan tells the Phoenix that the notes-sharing system is being reassessed in light of Borges’s transgressions.
“We're going to be discussing the whole idea of that, and we’re in the process now,” Sullivan says. “When things like that happen, it always causes you to have second thoughts about the way we do things.” Sullivan adds that, while notes-sharing services exist for every sport, not every sportswriter uses them — but he won’t say which of the Globe’s other notes columnists do or don’t.
Two more Borges-related matters worth pondering: first, given the egregiousness of Borges’s offense — the column in question repeated the words from News Tribune sportswriter Mike Sando verbatim or near-verbatim on several occasions — it's hard to see him as a victim. But judging from this statement, which was quoted on Boston.com, that’s what the Globe’s employee union seems to be doing: “The Boston Newspaper Guild stands behind Ron and the high-quality work he has done for the Globe over the years. We will work on his behalf to see that justice is served in this matter.”