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Plagiarism

Journalist and author Darrel Bristow-Bovey has been caught out plagiarising some paragraphs of Bill Bryson's work. Should he be allowed to get away with this, the worst sin a journalist can commit?
This is what Robert Kirby had to say about the whole affair in last week's Mail & Guardian:

It seems that Bristow-Bovey's writings are a bit like opening a tin of Pick 'n Pay spicy pilchards. You never know what extras you'll find. Bristow-Bovey, bless his magnetic pen, has been shown to be quite a deft hand when it comes to lifting, almost word for word, whole paragraphs from the writings of the English writer, Bill Bryson, and passing these off as his own. Bristow-Bovey's inventive practice was revealed in a brilliant piece of investigative reporting by a trainee journalist, Rob Boffard, and published in last week's Saturday Star. In return for this Boffard received a decidedly menacing e-mail from Bristow-Bovey warning him of the dangers of "kick-starting a career in journalism by seeking to tarnish a colleague's reputation".

  • Read the full article by Mail & Guardian columnist Robert Kirby - 18 July 2003.
  • Read Rob Boffard's article in the Saturday Star - 11 July 2003.
  • Read David Bullard's commentary in Sunday Times - 20 July 2003.
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    Comment
    chris
    worst sin?-
    oh, good grief. the worst sin? that's bollocks. being boring is the worst sin, which this story is becoming. very boring.
    Posted on 24 Jul 2003 14:30
    velile
    he must go-
    just a question and please don't bombard me with bigot comments. would it have a made a difference if Bristol was black. surely by now, the fourth estate would/should have long crucified this guy. labels such a "disgrace to our profession' would be bandied about.
    Posted on 24 Jul 2003 14:57
    bob
    ha ha!-
    he IS being crucified, and those labels ARE being bandied about. Read the papers.
    Posted on 24 Jul 2003 15:51
    Frank
    Should go-
    Plagiarism is such a vile evil for journalists that Darrel's various employers should question him. If found guilty, and it looks likely, he should be fired permanently. His reaction to the claims is highly illuminating: arrogant and unrepentant.
    Posted on 24 Jul 2003 21:15
    Anonymous
    About those prizes...-
    Darryl's won so many prizes he's not allowed to enter competitions like the Mondis any more - how much of that was plagiarised? There's no punishment that can be meted out, but let's hope that the humiliation of this all will be enough, that and the alarming silence I'm sure his cellphone is experiencing. A lesson to any of us that write indeed.
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 08:54
    p
    i'm devastated-
    I've always loved dbb's writing for it's humour and originality, which is why this is so disappointing. There are so few talented columnists/celebrities in this country that it's sad that this embarrassing evidence has come to light. Especially for those of us who have shelled out cash in the past in support of his books. I'm not sure i'll ever be able to see his work in the same light again.
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 09:05
    Lance
    Keep the guy-
    Come Now! The reuse of highly descriptive - well-written - ideas - if well adapted to suit the context of ones argument - should be applauded. Plagiarism has now place in our society anymore. One simply needs to look at the music industry "retreading", or are we saying that somehow writing should in some way be exempt from "polishing up" great old paragraphs.
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 09:44
    Gary
    Hear Ye Hear Ye-
    Oh for Gods sake people! Please will a person stand up and raise their hand if they have NEVER ever used a past quote from someone famous. I'ts in our diaries, we see it on TV, magazines etc etc.. Yes rightly enough the name is their to back up the quote, never- the- less from now on you can ONLY say or write what you think and never adapt what you may have read or seen. Come on! When all think alike, no one is thinking very much -Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) or should I say Gary 2003 Whatever!!!
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 10:00
    Anonymous
    about time-
    he's always been an arrogant little prick, and these notions that he's a good writer are just ridiculous of course, the whole idea for his bachelor book was p.j.o'rourke's glad he's been nailed hope he ends up selling big issue just as long as he doesn't subject the public to more of his stolen, semi-literate, high-school-standard nonsense
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 10:01
    Benjamin
    Dumb schmuck!!!-
    How long did he think that would last?? Honestly, in this day & age, you'd think someone of that sort of profile would know better.
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 10:57
    p
    is mr bristow bovey also ben trovato?-
    a couple of months ago i bought a local book by someone named ben trovato. it's is made up of a bunch of crazy letters that the author sent to a number of different places (hotels, restaurants, cabinet members etc.) and the real responses these letters got. at the time i was surprised to discover that the idea behind the book was a direct rip off of another book written about ten years ago called "letters from a nut" with foreward by jerry seinfeld. all these little issues of plagiarism have made me wonder if perhaps mr bristow-bovey is indeed also the illusive (and not so original) ben trovato? (Do these guys really think that they are the only ones out there reading books, and no-one will notice their plagiarism?) Can anyone out there shed any light on this?
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 11:17
    Brett
    Silly boy-
    1) Someone of his stature should have known better, he should have acknowledged his source; 2) His arrogant response is unlikely to do him any favours as copying another author's work, without acknwledgement, despite some who seem to believe different, remains one of the worst sins any writer can commit; 3) He probably has been punished and ashamed enough over the public debacle; 4) Rather than loss his job, he should be made to publicly apologise, or lose his job.
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 11:46
    Anonymous
    Sounds like the advertising industry. Seems there truly are no more original ideas...alas.-
    dumbass!
    Posted on 25 Jul 2003 15:20
    Darryl
    Darryl and my other brother Darryl.-
    Bye bye BB !!!!! Darryl Bill-Bryson? At least there are plenty of highly talented honest writers out there to take your place.
    Posted on 28 Jul 2003 11:17
    Anonymous
    More important issues out there...-
    Quite frankly I'm prepared to forgive this transgression. I look forward to reading BB's column in the Independent every Sunday and would be sorry to see it go. As a regular contributer to so many publications BB must be hard pushed for fresh ideas. However, I agree that an acknowledgement to Bill Bryson would have been in order. BTW, Bill Bryson is American, not English.
    Posted on 28 Jul 2003 12:41
    Bongo
    DBB: Creative writer in more than one way?-
    To spice up the debate a bit (as it is being considered boring by now): I recently read in one of the many publications talking about DBB and his writings that DBB had graduated from UCT with an MA, supervised by twice-Booker winner JM Coetzee. That made me wonder, because I vividly recall trying to have a look at DBB's Masters thesis, only to find out that such a thesis does not and did not exist, ever - at least not in that specific UCT library which keeps records of all completed theses and dissertations. Further, it is well-known fact that not the elusive JM Coetzee but an equally brilliant British scholar at UCT was assigned the task of supervising DBB's thesis. According to him, he never marked the final work. Food for thought?
    Posted on 29 Jul 2003 11:23
    Anonymous
    Forgive and forget-
    Lets look forward. Life is a learning experience for all, and everybody has learned from this, including BB, seasoned journalists and students. Creativity is most often borrowed and adapted ideas, even thought expert De Bono ascribed to this view. Lets cross-pollinate and build on ideas of others, but at least remember to give recognition if the adapted idea is very similar to the original concept.
    Posted on 29 Jul 2003 16:26
    Cloudgazer
    Too good to be true!-
    At first I hated Darryl Bristow-Bovey. I regarded him as an arrogant opiniated asshole. However, the more I read of his work the more I liked him. So What if he's arrogant! His stories are well written and entertaining, and thats all I ever really wanted. However, I'm glad he's been knocked of his high perch. I hope it hurts when he hits the ground. I just wish I could shoot him!
    Posted on 30 Jul 2003 11:55
    Spook
    this IS mainstream journalism-
    its understandable that some people experience righteous indignation, but the real issue is: Is he in breach of contract? That is for the client to decide and act upon. As long as the stories are entertaining, who gives a damn!?
    Posted on 30 Jul 2003 15:48
    Michelle
    A storm in a teacup-
    As anybody who knows Darrel Bristow-Bovey personally will tell you - Darrel is way ahead of his time. Not only is he a phenomenal writer (and don't try to tell me that every single word he's written has been plagiarised), but he is also a visionary, a creative thinker and writer who has never been afraid of calling a spade a spade. Obviously, it has earned him enemies over the years - and it seems that it is those very people who are now honing on a few words in the Naked Batchelor in an attempt to take him down. If you were as widely read as the author in question, with the retentive memory of an elephant, you, too, would perhaps use wording from time to time that has been expressed by someone else somewhere before. Let us not, however, forget that it wasn't word for word - and therefore there is no legal basis to banter about words like 'plagiarism'.
    Posted on 30 Jul 2003 19:09
    Anonymous
    Does anyone still know good writing?-
    High-school standard? Semi-literate? Please. Anyone who has any problem with Bristow-Bovey's writing, simply does not have the intellect to look past the obvious. Not only is Darrel highly intelligent, but he has the insight to criticise schmucks like you. Perhaps that is enough to create an enemy base, but when it comes down to it, there is still no other writer in this country who can call things the way he does. If you find that offensive, look inside yourself...
    Posted on 30 Jul 2003 19:15
    Anonymous
    5 million words - one paragraph-
    No, Bristow-Bovey is not Ben Trovato. At least he has the originality and integrity to comment honestly on his transgression. Out of more than five million words the man has written, I find it interesting that the vultures have come out of the woodwork to nail him on one paragraph... Me thinks there be a great amount of professional jealousy out there. Honestly, could the David Bullards (who, incidentally, released a miserable failure of a book at the same time as Bristow-Bovey), and Robert Kirby, who is well passed his sell-by date, even compare) I think not. Besides, I blame Bristow-Bovey's publishers - they should have picked up that reference, as any well-read editor would. The guy is human. It is easy to omit one reference.
    Posted on 30 Jul 2003 19:20
    Anonymous
    Professional jealousies?-
    As a colleague and journo myself who has both worked with and watched Bristow-Bovey's writing over the years, it has been almost impossible not to note the resentment, even hatred of other journalists. It is very seldom that a talent like Bristow-Bovey's emerges that is in-your-face, yet unfaultingly accurate. Darrel has never been in this business to be liked - he is there to call it as it is. Yes, this has earned him a fair amount of prestige, so it is only natural that some of his less talented colleagues, like Bullard and Kirby will use this opportunity to turn the knife. Yes, Bristow-Bovey should have credited that quote. But oversights happen. The furore, however, that has emerged as the result of the whole thing smacks of professional jealousies. Sorry boys - if you're hoping that Bristow-Bovey will be sacked and you'll get to take over the columns - don't hold your breath. Bristow-bovey has a freshness, and yes - originality - that you'll never be able to achieve in your lifetime. Until you have written as many columns as Bristow-Bovey, don't get on your high-horse about plagiarism and professional integrity - it could happen to you. Except, of course, no-one would notice.
    Posted on 30 Jul 2003 19:31
    Jajoba
    As they say...-
    .... using one person's work is plaguerism. Using many, is research.
    Posted on 31 Jul 2003 10:47
    tino
    Ban the bum-
    Michelle's response is easily as silly as that of the cheating author's publisher. Plagiarism is theft and nothing less. Passing someone else's work off as your own is disgraceful, no matter how supposedly brilliant one happens to be.
    Posted on 31 Jul 2003 10:52
    DBB Fan...but sad
    It's the denial that's the thing here....-
    He copied the paragraph. Anyone with half a brain can see that. It's not "he forgot to credit Bryson" or "he couldn't be sure of where it came from". He lifted the paragraph...and could only have written what he wrote with Bryson's original open in front of him at his PC. The sentence structure, the flow of ideas, the turn of phrase - identical. It wasn't a single thought that he regurgitated - it was a sequence of thoughts, carefully ordered and phrased. He copied the order and tweaked the phrasing. He used the original when he did so. He had to have done OR he has a photographic memory, in which case he would have remembered where he saw it first. So what I find most galling is that DBB denies it. That to me is shameful. I love his writing, and hope he continues writing and that I can continue reading what he writes. As a writer I will always rate him. As a human being he has fallen in my estimation. He should have blushed, apologised and moved on. Lying and covering up was a mistake. He copied it. End of story.
    Posted on 2 Aug 2003 17:57
    Bongo
    Bullshit-
    Honestly guys, DBB has not forgotten to reference anything, he has copied, plagiarised, stolen intellectual capital that is protected by law, no matter the two or three altered words. He pulled the same trick at university, claiming to hold an MA from UCT that was supervised by the CV-enhancing JM Coetzee. He submitted the very same article twice to two different magazine. He wrote a thinly-veiled threat to the one got onto this. How on earth can anyone think that DBB is the actual victim here? Do we really need a journalist spewing forth insights and observations in virtually every single South African magazine title whose words we can no longer trust? I don't.
    Posted on 7 Aug 2003 15:36
    nooly
    Honing? What on earth do you mean!-
    While you're looking it up, check 'plagiarism' too.
    Posted on 11 Aug 2003 15:59
    Anonymous
    Get yourself a dictionary-
    Perhaps then you'll get the gist of what people are trying to say - or perhaps, like Bristow-Bovey's writing, it is simply beyond you?
    Posted on 12 Aug 2003 20:40
    Therod
    THE BASTARD!-
    What a total prick. It is so blatantly copied, yet he claims this elephant bollocks. He should own up to it, and be fired from all his precious columns. Publishers should ban him. There are many, many talented writers out there who can't get work 'cos Mr Plagiarist has monopolised the column market. Even corporates use him for his reputation. I am positive this will besmirch that reputation and drop him to the level of struggling hack once again. I feel sorry for all the suckers who bought the book. It is a farce. He should publicly apologise. And to Rob Boffard, don't worry about his thinly veiled threats. The true journalists are all behind you on this one.
    Posted on 13 Aug 2003 14:01
    Bongo
    Exactly!-
    By the way, it all started with him getting an editor's job with Tafelberg Publishers, on the ASSUMPTION that he's got an MA under his belt (which he doesn't)...
    Posted on 14 Aug 2003 09:34
    Biff
    And then he said....-
    Quote from DBB interview with Exclusive Books on The Naked Bachelor. No doubt, the next book will be hysterical. Bryson's was, after all. EB: Do you plan to follow this book up? What's next in your life of intrigue and international scandal? DBB: My next book, interesting you should ask, is a South African travel book, a little like Bill Bryson's book about travelling through America, only a good deal funnier.
    Posted on 20 Aug 2003 18:19
    Gotta be kidding...
    Accept it-
    Only caught up with this late.... but you gotta be kidding?! Does ANYONE who's been commenting in DBB's defence on this matter actually have the slightest clue about the writing process? This is plagiarism of the first order. He copied it. He did what all such sinners do and altered a word here or there. Accept it. This is stealing. He should not have a job.
    Posted on 20 Aug 2003 19:00
    Michelle
    Pure jealousy-
    Could your comments be simply the by-product of your own attempts to find work? Let's be honest - there isn't room for hacks, or mediocre journos out there. If Bristow-Bovey has got where he is, there is a damn good reason - he can write and he can entertain. Sorry your work isn't up to par.
    Posted on 23 Aug 2003 18:49
    Michelle
    Be very careful-
    Bongo, If I were you, I would be very careful about those accusations you make against Darrel without any proof. Bristow-Bovey does in fact have a Master's Degree. As someone who's seen his thesis, I can speak from a basis fact - not just the half-baked allegations of someone who has never been able to cut it in the industry.
    Posted on 23 Aug 2003 18:53
    Bongo
    Full of care-
    Well, if you've seen his completed and marked thesis, would you care to point out where the general public can have access to it?
    Posted on 16 Sep 2003 17:42
    Bongo
    Never made in the industry?-
    Michelle, it appears to me that your obsequious remarks about DBB in your previous mailings are more than just the overly adoring words of a juvenile sycophant - an unrequited love, perhaps, that finds its outlet in publicly defeing the culprit, or a assumed female personality of DB himself?!? Either way: whether I've ever made it in the industry (a choice of word I find interesting) is neither the core (they are of an academic nature) nor the cause of my accusations (I have never tried to be part of that 'industry'). Whether I have to be careful making these 'allegations' is yet another questions: is that for the same reason Rob Boffard should not have written his article? Will I fall, under mysterious circumstance, out of some window? Will I get visited at night, taken away to some fram in the Karoo? Well done so far, Michelle: you have ensured that the other readers of this forum get to know you quite intimately: ingratiating to the hero, threatening to those that don't follow your views or point of chinks in the armour...
    Posted on 16 Sep 2003 17:56
    Bongo
    Sinners all around?!-
    I fully agree. What I would find interesting to find out, though, is why some people in this forum are so vehemently defending DBB's sins. Fellow sinners? Same low morals? Friends or family?
    Posted on 17 Sep 2003 07:18
    Bongo
    Scary stuff-
    Well, going through the mailings of the past months, I'm beginning to find Michelle's postings a lot more alarming that DBB's original sin... I can forgive someone committing blatant plagiarism (and he has publicly pledged guilty on that account); what I find intolerable are the statements of a mindless followers who denies the obvious while even the culprits has turned imself in. Michelle, do you think DBB was coerced into admiting plagiarism? Is it all a plot against this shining literary light of South Africa? Is he the tragic victim?
    Posted on 17 Sep 2003 07:26
    Spy
    Darrel is that you ?????-
    You can drop the persona Darrel, we all know this is you !!
    Posted on 4 Dec 2003 09:20
    ted goodfellow
    try reading a little slower-
    Listen, you humourless, illiterate twat. You claim to be a reader and yet cannot even spell simple words like "elusive" and "foreword". For your information, dumbnuts, Seinfeld wrote Letters From A Nut relatively recently. He got the idea from Henry Root and at least three other writers who wrote similar books over the past thirty years.
    Posted on 15 Jan 2004 10:13
    Bob
    Everyone makes mistakes-
    So DBB made a mistake. So does everyone. I believe that you should forgive and forget. No harm was done. Give the guy a break
    Posted on 29 Jan 2004 11:46
    F Scott Fitzgerald
    A good man in Africa-
    DBB? The man is a legend.
    Posted on 22 Mar 2004 20:55
    Hey.
    RE: Ben Trovato rip-off-
    Ben Trovato did NOT steal the idea from Henry Root, he adapted it and improved it to suit the south african literacy and tastes. Bovey and Ben are NOT the same, in fact, Bovey is not a particularly nice man, whereas Ben, my father, is a decent, (If slightly odd) man. Yes, he IS a man. Ben Trovato has also written several other books under different names, which have become best-sellers. SO, before you try and impune his honour, make sure that you're in possession of all the facts. Thanks. Clive
    Posted on 16 Apr 2004 22:38
    Michelle
    Bongo, you give yourself away-
    Ah Bongo, It has been interesting to watch your little tirade - and watching how personally you have taken all pro-Bristow-Bovey comments. You have given yourself away. Perhaps you have a little too much vested interest, fuelled by your own venom and ulterior motives.
    Posted on 29 Apr 2004 22:07
    Michelle
    No, this is not Darrel-
    It may seem unfathomable to you that someone could actually not want to see the downfall of a damn good writer, but sorry, there is no cloak and dagger here. I am simply someone who has followed Bristow-Bovey's career with keen interest,and detest seeing snakes take him down with sheer delight and out of pure jealousy. Yes, he plagiarised, but does that nullify every other piece of work the man has done? Every other insight that has had most of us sniggering, wishing we had the guts to verbalise it ourselves? I think not.
    Posted on 29 Apr 2004 22:11
    Dawn
    What?! everyone makes mistakes?-
    Bristow-Bovey is an established journalist, and as such, should know the golden rules. He obviously thinks so highly of himself that he figures he his the only person who reads Bryson's work. All too often top journalists get away with such nonsense because they carry some supposedly significant weight in the industry. He should burn. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you've been in a field long enough, you know what things to avoid. Just like an owner of a Ducati will never ride without a helmet, so Bristow-Bovey should never "copy and paste"!
    Posted on 17 Jun 2004 13:46
    Michelle C
    Kick them out!-
    There's mistakes and there's mistakes. Plagiarism is NOT a 'mistake' if you're a writer or journalist. You are stealing other peoples words to either higher your reputation or to make money. And who ever commented on him being a creative writer - CRAP! If you're a creative writer you don't need to use other peoples work - you'll be creative enough to come up with your own fresh ideas. I am a journalist and truely feel that the media should stand together against people like: Bristow-Bovey, Cynthia Vongai, Ranjeni Munusami, Vusi Mona ect. No matter what their excuses - their fake!
    Posted on 7 Dec 2004 15:17

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