Editorial Integrity

There’s quite a juxtaposition on the front page of last week’s issue. On the top left corner is the graphic that proudly proclaims our status as ASBPE Magazine of the Year for 2006. Less than six inches below it is a “Note From the Editor in Chief,” in which I informed our readers that one of our regular features included material that we now know to have been plagiarized.

In case you missed it, the note explained that the plagiarism occurred in a section of our “Geek’s Garden” feature called “Difference Engines,” which highlights key developments in the history of computing. I noted that we found that online reference materials were used verbatim in a number of instances without attribution.

So what is to be made of that awkward juxtaposition? The answer is this: The two seemingly incongruous elements, in fact, go hand-in-hand.

When I reflect on why Computerworld has been named Magazine of the Year by the American Society of Business Publication Editors for two of the past three years, I can cite any number of contributing factors. There are the decades upon decades of combined experience and institutional knowledge represented by our editorial staff. There’s the spirit of teamwork shared by our talented writers, editors and designers. And there’s the heritage of journalistic excellence that was built by those who came before us, and whose hard work drives us to meet the towering standard they have set.

But the factor that underlies all of this — the one without which none of the other factors would really matter — is Computerworld’s editorial integrity.

We would not have been named Magazine of the Year were it not for the fact that Computerworld’s senior management outside of the editorial department has the utmost respect for our editorial integrity.

We were named Magazine of the Year because we serve the interests of our readers, not the interests of our advertisers. I am the proud recipient of ASBPE’s national gold award for editorial writing for an editorial titled “Dear John,” in which I lambasted CA Inc. CEO John Swainson for what he wrote in a letter to his users that appeared as a full-page ad in Computerworld. I’m smart enough to know that award was won not on the strength of any skills of mine, but on the strength of the editorial integrity the column demonstrated.

We were named Magazine of the Year because we in the editorial department can write what we believe to be important for our readers to know — even when it puts the advertising side of the company in an awkward position — and be certain we will receive the unflinching support of our senior management.

Our editorial integrity is but one component of a corporate culture that is characterized by courage, openness and transparency. That’s why you might see us goof up, but you’ll never see us shrinking into any shadows afterward.

To my knowledge, this is the first case of plagiarism that has occurred in the nearly 40-year history of Computerworld. It literally sickens me that it happened on my watch. Gathering the editorial staff to tell them what had happened was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my career as a journalist. If you’d seen the shock, disappointment and sadness on their faces, you’d know what I mean.

And having to tell our readers about it wasn’t easy, either. But if anyone asks me why we’re Magazine of the Year, I can point proudly to that note on page 1 and say, “That’s why.”

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

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