The Pitch’s Ben Palosaari is reporting that former Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn, who was publicly fired last July after it was discovered he was stealing much of his information directly from press releases, is now suing Star parent McClatchy Newspapers, for defamation.
Penn is seeking $25,000 and punitive damages. In the suit, Penn claims that by the Star calling his columns plagiarism, the paper hurt his reputation and cost him employment opportunities. A hearing in the case is scheduled for November 14.
According to Palosaari, Penn claims that copying press releases was commonplace at the paper and throughout the field of journalism. His suit says part of his training at the paper even included using press releases and not attributing them to their source.
”In the normal editing process and a follow-up review, it was discovered that Penn had lifted material from press releases verbatim, in some cases presenting others’ conclusions and opinions as his own and without attribution,” noted the Star when reporting Penn’s termination. “Editors found more than a dozen examples in Penn’s columns dating back to 2008,” the article said.
Poynter has also outlined some of the reasons given for Penn’s termination (link). It also has a poll on taking information from press releases.
Penn has retained attorney Lyle Gregory, who won a $6.5 million judgment against KC’s Board of Police Commissioners last year for in the termination of a police officer based on race.
A former colleague at the Star was not as kind about Penn’s journalistic abilities.
“Steve Penn wasn’t merely fired because he slipped up and got caught,” he wrote. “He was fired because he wasn’t very good – which is being generous – and the paper stumbled on to an unimpeachable reason to rid itself of him.”