"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

18 February, 2010

The Cautionary Tale of the Professor, his Blog Post & the Blatant Plagiarism

Any journalist with more than a few years’ experience has a sad saga of plagiarism to tell. Not even the most august publications are immune from the practice, as we saw only yesterday with the resignation of New York Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe amid allegations he lifted material straight from a piece written two weeks earlier by a Wall Street Journal reporter.

This kind of blatant theft – plagiarism comes from the Latin verb: to kidnap - makes for a good headline and there was no surprise that prestigious Spanish newspaper El Mundo chose to splash the story of the NYT investigation on the Media section of its website. El Mundo used Spanish news agency EFE copy and ran it without comment.

Good then, to see El Mundo alerting its readers to this shameless breach of protocol by the venerable Gray Lady. What a shame it failed to take this perfect opportunity to admit to an equally brash example of plagiarism on its own website earlier this week.

On Tuesday 16th February – Ramón Salaverría wrote a blog post which - loosely translated - was entitled “Plagiarism & What to do about it”. He explained that his Monday post - concerning the future of EFE - was lifted shortly after he published it – and practically verbatim – by the website of major Spanish daily El Mundo.

The story which follows is a cautionary tale about the swift rise of uncredited appropriation of original material in our global digital age. As the loud slamming of stable doors at the NYT shows, policing this piracy is practically impossible. It also highlights the frustrating impotence of individual originators in the face of powerful media organisations.

Ramón Salaverría is Professor of Journalism at Spain’s prestigious University of Navarre and is the academic behind the influential e-periodistas-weblog. He tweets at @rsalaverria.

Justifiably peeved, Ramón sent a tweet about the plagiarism - which, unsurprisingly, was swiftly retweeted around the Spanish-speaking Twitterverse. Less than an hour after the tweet – 140 characters which exposed the casual appropriation of a considered blog post by a respected journalist and commentator - the piece on the El Mundo website was markedly modified – in a patent attempt to differentiate it from Ramón’s original post.

However, it still contained no acknowledgement of the original source, nor any nod to the original author of the piece. The time of posting of El Mundo’s re-jigged version had also been mysteriously modified – to predate the original, expository tweet. Ramón tweeted about this back-tracking by the El Mundo website. He also noted that El Mundo was also flagging the NYT-WSJ plagiarism piece.

There is a silver lining to the black cloud of this story. Ramón’s story prompted an avalanche of indignant tweets, all expressing solidarity. On Wednesday afternoon, he finally received an apologetic telephone call from an El Mundo representative. Was this apology prompted by the Twitter backlash? Impossible to be sure but difficult to discount completely.

As I write, Ramón’s story has appeared elsewhere in the Spanish media; a couple of headlines reading: Salaverría accuses El Mundo of plagiarism. The use of that particular verb is, as he says himself, a question of nuance.

Salaverría is a journalism professional and the author of several key publications about online journalism and the future of news on the Internet. With this frank and expert eye on the media landscape, he recognises that he is not the first to have his intellectual property whisked away in this manner – nor will he be the last.

But as he expounds in his original blog post: we all know that the media are in full-blown crisis; the future is far from clear. Professor Salaverría firmly believes that this future depends upon the media – whether print or on-line - remaining a credible and trustworthy resource for their readers.

He echoes several other commentators’ pleas for a return to the criteria of excellence and – slightly scarily – refers his readers to a post he wrote six years ago – the substance of which remains: “pressing ‘delete’ does not necessarily mean rectification”.

07 February, 2010

Art London: Saatchi’s Latest Squint at the Zeitgeist

Jitish Kallat (b.1974) "Public Notice 2" (2007) - this image copyright: Saatchi Gallery

It is 25 years since bashful advertising maven Charles Saatchi opened his first gallery in a disused paint factory in north London. Saatchi has since courted controversy and divided the critics with his potent, some might say, baleful, patronage. However, signs are emerging that the art market Melmotte may finally be mellowing. The gallery is now in its third incarnation and some distinctly philanthropic elements are appearing, alongside the taciturn collector’s once rather more commercial objectives.

In 2003, the Saatchi Gallery left leafy St Johns Wood, migrating south to London’s former County Hall. However, the sojourn on the South Bank was ill-starred to say the least, overshadowed by rows over tenancy and an acrimonious war of words with the YBAs Saatchi had once championed and their nominal gang leader, Damien Hirst.

I personally never felt many of those period icons, such as Damien’s Shark, Gavin Turk’s Sid Vicious and Ron Mueck’s Angel seemed entirely at ease, among the wood panelled corridors and chambers of the palatial former GLC building. The Japanese landlords eventually won their legal case; Saatchi was evicted – it may well have been for the best.

The Saatchi Gallery reopened in October 2008 in the rather more elegant, grander setting of the former Duke of York’s Headquarters, upstream from Westminster, off the King’s Road in Chelsea. The shiny new floors have now finally settled down, the white walls no longer reek of fresh paint and a decent café is now also open.

The latest, and third major, show seems to have Saatchi continuing to monitor the geo-political and economic shifts which have marked the 21st century. The first exhibition showcased new art from China, the second, young Middle Eastern artists and now we have “The Empire strikes back: Indian Art Today” (29 Jan.-7 May 2010).

Aside from the dubious, gimmicky titles: “The Revolution Continues” for China; “Unveiled” for the Middle East, the shows have been critically well-received while art-loving natives and tourists alike now have another airy place of pilgrimage, with a growing reputation for thoughtful shows. Admission is also free.

The curators of the current show take advantage of the venue’s extraordinary spaces. To date, Gallery One has been used for a single or pair of powerful installations and is here given over to "Public Notice 2" (2007) by Jitish Kallat (above). There is an awful lot of Kallat, current darling of the sub-Continental art scene, on show here. Yet I had to admit every piece had earned its place. Unsurprisingly, practically every work on show here references socio-economic themes: poverty; violence; the gap between rich and poor.

Kallat’s monumental sculpture of the boy book seller “Eruda” (2008) is stunningly displayed here. Yet I found “Death of Distance” (2007) far more moving. The work comprises another huge sculpture, of a one rupee coin and five lenticular prints which juxtapose two found texts – one of a girl who commits suicide for want of one rupee for school lunch and the other on the launch of one-rupee-per-minute phone rates. Do take the time to read both stories. Kallat talks more about his work here.

Subodh Gupta (b.1964) "Spill" (2007) - this image copyright: Saatchi Gallery

At the 2005 Venice Biennale, I found Subodh Gupta’s installations of cooking pots and utensils both insubstantial and banal. In this setting, really rather more intimate than the always chilly and gloomy Arsenale, I found more to admire in the clever distortions of scale and in the still life oil paintings of the same steel cans and pans.

Another artist benefitting from intelligent installation was Pakistani artist Huma Mulji. Her taxidermied animal sculptures are not easy on the eye but the discomfiture they provoke is balanced by a marked humour.

Huma Mulji (b.1970) "Her Suburban Dream" (2009) - this image copyright: Saatchi Gallery

On show in the gallery’s Project Room is an on-going work by American artist Emily Prince (b.1981), entitled “American Servicemen And Women Who Have Died In Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including The Wounded, Nor The Iraqis Nor The Afghans). This highly topical contemporary comment-cum-tribute is overwhelming in scope. I will be revisiting this piece, and examining new works of war art by Prince’s contemporaries in a future post.

Last but far from least, Chelsea boasts another pull with the recent unveiling of Richard Wilson’s “20:50” – a site-specific installation of used sump oil and steel, first shown in the original Boundary Road gallery in 1987. This truly extraordinary experience now occupies an entire gallery, built specifically for the piece. The artist (b.1953) will discuss his work with critic Ossian Ward at the gallery on Thursday 25th February.