Jon Flatland, newspaper columnist, outed as serial plagiarist, driven from industry

Categories: Media
John Flatland.jpg
Flatland's history of plagiarism is far from totally awesome.
Jon Flatland worked as a reporter, columnist, editor, and newspaper owner for 28 years, most recently as managing editor of the newspaper in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota. He won numerous awards for his "work," including an award for best humor column last year from the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

But last week, Flatland, 47, was revealed as a serial plagiarist. It now appears his "Thoughts While Shaving" column for the Blooming Prairie Times contained next to no original material. And just as Flatland's history of plagiarism came to light, he abruptly quit his job and left town, suggesting he was fully aware of what he was up to and knew he couldn't explain it away if busted.

In the day and age of Google, it seems like it was only a matter of time before Flatland was outed. In fact, it's amazing he was able to dupe people into believing he was a legitimate writer for as long as he did.

Here's how Flatland was busted -- Dave Fox, a humor writer based in Singapore, was Googling old columns of his as he prepared to launch a new website. He discovered that Flatland had basically lifted one of his old columns, pasted a new byline on it, then had it published "in multiple newspapers" on "multiple occasions." Fox then contacted the publisher of the Blooming Prairie paper, who mentioned the allegations to Flatland. Hours later, the publisher received an e-mail from Flatland basically saying Sorry, it's true, and I'm out of here. Flatland then left town for an unknown destination.

To take just one example, consider Flatland's column from February 28 of this year, entitled "A penny saved is 2.4 cents lost." Here's a comparison of Flatland's column with another of the same name, written by Jim Lee and published on February 19 in the Carroll County Times of Carroll County, Maryland:
Lee: Continuing production of the penny even though it costs more than double what it is worth sort of illustrates what is wrong with this country and why we are so deeply in debt.

Hopefully President Barack Obama was thinking more bigger picture stuff back in 2008 when he campaigned on a message of hope and change. Now though, he'll have to settle with hoping Congress goes along with his plan to change our change...

A penny saved may have been a penny earned at one time, but today, saving a penny actually costs us twice as much as it is worth while, a penny not saved can actually be two pennies earned.

It can all get rather confusing when you start throwing in these old sayings, and in all likelihood they too will have to change if we change our change to eliminate the penny.

But all this is just my two cents, which today is almost enough to make one penny.

Flatland: Continuing production of the penny, even though it costs more than double what it is worth to produce, sort of illustrates what is wrong with this country and why we are so deeply in debt.

Hopefully President Barack Obama was thinking more bigger picture stuff back in 2008 when he campaigned on a message of hope and change. Now though, he'll have to settle with hoping Congress goes along with his plan to change our change...

You see, a penny saved may have been a penny earned at one time, but today, saving a penny actually costs us twice as much as it is worth, while a penny not saved can actually be two pennies earned.

It can all get rather confusing when you start throwing in these old sayings, and in all likelihood they too will have to change if we change our change to eliminate the penny.

But all this is just my two cents, which today is almost enough to make one penny.
And oh yeah, that award-winning humor column Flatland "wrote" last year? Turns out it was actually penned by Jason Offut, a writer in Missouri.

Contacted yesterday by the Associated Press, Flatland acknowledged he "apparently" plagiarized but said he didn't do so "to the extent they're saying." He added that he's out of the newspaper business and isn't sure what he'll do next.

It looks like he actually cleaned up at least one typo from Lee's original column in the excerpt above... maybe a career in copy editing is a logical move?

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