Barbarians at the gate

I first met Peggy (as she was called in those days) Wente thirty years ago when she was editor of Canadian Business. To be young, female and a magazine editor, particularly one that covered business, was unusual to say the least. Wente was an excellent editor who had been spotted by the legendary Sandy Ross after he’d turned the former official publication of the Chamber of Commerce into an exciting product.

I had just left Maclean’s, was freelancing, and Canadian Business became one of my main outlets. I’d do four or five 5,000-word pieces annually for them. Those were the days of long-form journalism and editors who cared. Under Wente’s discerning eye, you could count on spending most of a day with a handling editor, either Barbara Czarnecki or Barbara Moon. When you were done, you were bedraggled, but your article was better. It was a wonderful process; every writer needs a good editor. Today, none of that happens at any publication. Drivel is shovelled through.

These days Wente is once again the centre of allegations about plagiarism. In 2012 a column she wrote in 2009 was found to have had borrowings that should have been attributed. New charges have surfaced, claiming two more plagiaristic incidents. I worry about these things; every writer should. But the new allegations seem trumped up. They are certainly not in the same category as Dick Beddoes a few years back when he sent in an entire Russell Smith column claiming it as his own. And lost his job as a result.

I think the Globe and Mail has more things to fret about than seven words here or there. Other than Cathal Kelly they have too few writers worth reading. Whether they borrow from others or not.

My headline? Oh, I plagiarized it.

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