On Sunday, June 16, a Gambit reader (who happens to write for The TImes-Picayune) noticed that some recent Blake Pontchartrain columns contained passages that hewed closely to materials that were published elsewhere. In some cases, passages in the Blake columns were identical, or nearly identical, to the work of others and not properly attributed.
After analyzing those examples and doing our own preliminary research, we determined that the identical passages were not inserted during the editing process but instead were the result of careless writing by the person who has researched and produced Blake for the past 15 years. Although the bulk of each column in question contained original material, the writer’s failure to quote or attribute the work of others constitutes plagiarism. We are deeply disappointed and saddened by this news.
“Blake Pontchartrain” is a nom de plume and has been a regular feature of Gambit since 1988. Throughout that time, both in print and online at bestofneworleans.com, Blake has been our readers’ favorite column. The name “Blake Pontchartrain” is also trademark of Gambit Communications Inc., which publishes Gambit. The contributor in question will no longer write for Gambit, but the Blake Pontchartrain column will return in coming weeks.
The column has been written anonymously since its inception, but always by one writer at a time. In a June 17 post on blogofneworleans.com, we used the word “composite” to describe the fact that several writers have produced Blake over the years; that was a poor choice of words. It gave some the idea that several writers within a relatively short period of time, or even all at once, wrote the column. That has never been the case. There has always been only one person writing Blake at any given point in time and, since 1988, only about a half-dozen writers have produced the column — and only one for the past 15 years.
The examples cited by our reader thus can all be attributed to a single contributor, a retired educator whose journalistic efforts have been limited to researching and writing for Blake, anonymously, as a freelancer. This writer’s byline has never appeared in any publication, including Gambit. No other writers and no other publications are affected by the writer’s carelessness or by our decision to remove archived Blake Pontchartrain columns.
We have been assured by the writer that this matter is confined to a few columns. However, after extensive internal discussion and a conversation with a media ethics expert at the nonprofit Poynter Institute for journalism, we have decided that the prudent course of action is to remove the Blake Pontchartrain archive from our website while we review each column for accuracy, originality and proper attribution. This will take time, but we want Blake’s many fans to have full confidence in the column and in Gambit. We will restore each column as soon as we verify its originality.
Even in the midst of this unfortunate chapter, readers have told us that they want to see Blake’s question-and-answer column about New Orleans history, lore and trivia return to Gambit and to bestofneworleans.com. Rest assured we will do all we can to make that happen as soon as possible.