Chronicle writer fired for plagiarism

Chronicle Arts and Entertainment writer Mark Mitchell was fired Wednesday after editors discovered a pattern of plagiarism in his stories.

A letter sent to the editor Wednesday morning from physics major Steve Morgan Coons indicated that Mitchell’s most recent article, “Championship karaoke: Beware the holiday musical horrors awaiting you this, and every, year” (Nov. 29), had been plagiarized from an article in The Onion’s A.V. Club, “The Christmas-time horrors that await you” (Nov. 27), by Amelie Gillette.

Mitchell was called in by Chronicle A&E Editor Ben Zalkind and admitted his malfeasances on the spot. His employment was immediately terminated.

“Obviously it reflects poorly, but at the same time, this isn’t something that only affects college newspapers; it affects newspapers across the board,” said Danyelle White, Chronicle editor in chief. “I think the fact that we took action immediately and are being forthright about it restores some of our dignity.”

Further investigation revealed that certain passages had been taken verbatim from Gillette and that yesterday’s article was not the only one that had been plagiarized.

Mitchell’s most recent movie review (Two-headed calf: Christopher Guest and Co. skewer Oscar in ‘For Your Consideration,'” Nov. 28) contained passages lifted directly from the review by USA Today film critic Claudia Puig.

In early October, Mitchell wrote a piece about independent filmmaker John Waters, who was in Salt Lake City for a 25th anniversary celebration of the Sundance Institute. More than half of Mitchell’s article (“Schlocktacular: John Waters prepares to soak Salt Lake City in depravity Friday,” Oct. 11), was plagiarized from a Daniel Reitz-penned story that appeared in Salon.com in August of 2000.

In Mitchell’s Nov. 6 review of “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” one line was taken directly from an article on the Web site Fametracker.org, (“Fametracker’s Ten Least Essential Spring Films, 2006,” Feb. 14 ).

Mitchell’s Nov. 1 feature (“Not a cult favorite: For some reason, people just don’t want ‘Bryan Loves You’ made”) contained one paragraph was taken nearly verbatim from a story that appeared on the Web site grassrootstheory.org.

Prior to these events, Mitchell had been a well-regarded writer for the A&E section, Zalkind said, who referred to Mitchell as “the best up-and-coming writer on staff.”

Many Chronicle staffers have commended Mitchell on his writing over the past several weeks. “He seemed to understand tone, he understood humor on various levels,” Zalkind said, and called the discovery of Mitchell’s plagiarism “extremely shocking.”

Mitchell, who told The Chronicle that his previous writing experience was minor and was primarily for Internet outlets, said he initially applied at the paper more as a “rsum builder” than anything else.

While he could not offer a concrete or all-encompassing explanation for his choice to plagiarize, Mitchell did say that “time constraints” may have played a part, “which is my own fault,” he said.

Mitchell said that while he “naturally” hoped his missteps would go unnoticed, “I guess somehow you always know that it’s going to catch up with you.”

He went on to say that he wasn’t sure whether or not writing was in his future, but that ultimately he felt he deserved his punishment.

“Being let go from the paper for plagiarism, which is huge?it’s embarrassing,” Mitchell said, “but much worse things could have happened, and could happen, I suppose.”

Zalkind, who has been on the Chronicle’s staff since September 2004 and has been A&E editor since May, said he was upset by Mitchell’s actions.

“It’s extremely disappointing for me personally because I develop a rapport with all my writers, and I like to think that because I’m honest with them, they will, in turn, be honest with me,” Zalkind said. “In a sense, it feels like a betrayal.”

White, who took over as the paper’s editor in chief in May, had to terminate another member of the staff earlier this fall for another ethical violation-which is part of what made Wednesday’s events so hard to swallow.

“I was surprised because, especially considering what happened earlier this year?we’ve discussed ethics, and ethics have been at the forefront of our focus this semester, particularly,” White said. “To think that someone disregarded ethics to that egregious extent and that we didn’t catch it earlier is embarrassing.”