MSP post stolen and Mormons stumping

I caught two interesting news stories in my news feed this morning. First is this article in the Tampa Bay Tribune about the LDS Church being one of the largest land owners in the state of Florida: Mormon church is large landowner in Florida. The information provided in the article is EERILY FAMILIAR, as in, it’s basically a duplicate of my post here on MSP from 2009: LDS Inc owns .7% of Florida. I guess it wouldn’t look so good for the reporter, Kevin Wiatrowski, if he cited a website critical of the LDS Church as his source for the article, but plagiarizing a blog post for a news article probably wouldn’t look so good on a resume either. Do me a favor, if you would, and go comment on that article asking Mr. Wiatrowski where he came up with the idea for his article. My guess is that he did a Google search using the words “Mormon” and “Florida” and saw my post as the #1 link, then stole my idea. I could be wrong though.

The second news article that caught my attention didn’t get as much play in the big press as did the fact that Mitt was “Newt-ed” in South Carolina: young Mormons arrived by the busload to stump for Mitt. Since they were young, loud, and energetic, it gave the impression that Mitt had momentum in South Carolina. Um, yeah, not so much. When a reporter questioned their enthusiasm, they admitted they weren’t from South Carolina but rather from D.C. and Utah. It didn’t help Mitt in the end, but I call shenanigans nonetheless.


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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17 Responses

  1. Hellmut says:

    Wow! I am wondering if they are trying to dig up negative stuff about the Mormon church to hurt Romney.

  2. Matt says:

    Prof, good to know that a blogger can make a difference. And I have to say that the LDS flash-mobbing for Mitt is totally creepy … Like Ron Paul creepy. Also reminds me of what was done with Prop 8.

  3. wry says:

    You need to capture the text of the article in case they pull it down. Capture the text and do a screen shot. Not like you’re going to take legal action or anything, but just to keep a true history of what happened.

  4. profxm says:

    wry, just printed the story to a PDF. I’ve got a copy now.

    Matt, I agree – totally creepy! And a pretty interesting story since most of the stories about Mitt and Mormonism have talked about the hands-off approach of the LDS Church to this point. To have Mormons stumping is going to fan the flames of religion being an issue in this election.

  5. profxm says:

    So, I ran my original post and the TBO article past a journalism colleague at my university to get a sense of whether he thought there was an issue. He responded with a lengthy email, excerpts of which are posted below with his permission.

    Journalist’s thoughts:

    “After a quick read of both pieces, I wouldn’t consider it to be plagiarism. I’m no Trib or journalist apologist, but it seems to me that he did additional reporting, including contextualizing and correcting some of your reporting–if he saw yours. The question is,
    “Where did he get the idea?”

    Due to speed and readability, journalists have very different standards re citing sources (compared to academic researchers). This can become a problem. Also, there is virtually no standard for stealing/borrowing ideas for pieces. If profs stole paper ideas the way journos steal article ideas, those profs would now be selling cars. In the case of journalists, they should in good faith add enough to justify their article being a derivative work, also a copyright term. I think Wiatrowski did that. He could and should have linked to your piece or given you some props for uncovering such a fascinating story, assuming he did see it.

    If I were a journalist in Georgia right now, I might be so impressed by this discovery that I’d do the exact same methodology in Georgia to see what the Mormons own there. We call it localization. I wouldn’t even think to cite you or him, unless it was to provide a comparison (“In Florida, Mormon’s own…). I wouldn’t hide that I had taken the idea, but I wouldn’t mention it in the story. I might even send you a thanks or an FYI email with the link to my story. I also might tip off colleagues elsewhere in the country to do the same. It’s more akin to taking course ideas from other universities or assignments from other professors, so common the practice is often considered more collegial and flattering than dishonest. It’s just a different convention.

    IF he saw your piece first, my guess is that this guy couldn’t interview you or even cite an anonymous post. If your piece got a lot of attention, he might have been forwarded the link or seen a Tweet or FB post.

    Journalists localize stories all the time. He might have gotten the idea from a similar piece elsewhere (as I said above). Maybe even something written on a different type of land-owning group. Sometimes think-tanks or trade groups even send out tip sheets to journalists. The association of religious reporters (there is one) might suggest looking into what land their local groups own. A group of real estate reporters might be encouraged to do the same. This reporter might have first gotten the list of FL’s biggest landowners and then looked down the list for a good story.

    Journalists are almost obsessed with combing through databases and cross-referencing records. The digitization of records, the speed they can be accessed and the ease of computer-aided analysis make stories like these low-hanging fruit if you have the time and curiosity. Like any other researcher, it’s only a matter of creativity in looking through the various permutations. Just on a whim during a drought, a reporter might look into how much water the various #GOP campaign HQs use, or look to see if a campaign bus or candidate has collected a bunch of traffic tickets around the country. For every story you write, there are 5 things you look into that don’t pan out.

    I’d assume the best and just ask the guy. It might be the start of a worthwhile conversation.”

    And now we know… 🙂

  6. visitor says:

    For what it’s worth, I read about the programmed rent-a-mobs on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.

  7. Hellmut says:

    Every campaign is trying to swell its volunteer forces by bringing in people from out of state. When I was the co-director of the Obama campaign in Prince George’s Coutny, MD, for example, we sent 3,000 volunteers to Virginia during the general election after helping out in various states during the primaries.

    BYU and Bob Jones University are notorious for supplying volunteers to Republican campaigns across the nation. In part, that may reflect Democratic paranoia but the real reason is obvious.

    There aren’t that many places with a high concentration of conservative young people with disposable time to volunteer.

    In this case, it’s an easy story to tell because Mitt Romney is Mormon who receives help from Mormon college students but it is actually pretty standard because the BYU volunteers usually come in support of conservative gentile candidates.

  8. chanson says:

    If I were a journalist in Georgia right now, I might be so impressed by this discovery that Id do the exact same methodology in Georgia to see what the Mormons own there. We call it localization.

    It would be interesting if reporters in other areas followed suit. I wonder whether Florida is an exception or whether they have similar real estate holdings all over the US.

  9. Alan says:

    From what I’ve scrounged, Florida is an exception. That archived Deseret article is 20 years old, though, and since then, the Church has probably bought land elsewhere and everywhere, including quite a bit in Nebraska, almost the size of what it owns in Florida. That is sheer acreage, though — I’m not sure how much it’s been developed.

    Anyone know if the Florida land has been developed into “a community with 5,000 homes and 4,200 apartments, plus schools, offices and stores” (as the article says the Church’s plans were)?

  10. profxm says:

    I visited the Deseret Citrus and Cattle Ranch in 2009 and there were definitely not 5,000 homes and 4,200 apartments, nor were there schools, offices, and stores. There were a few dozen homes for the ranch hands and an office for managing the property. Otherwise I saw citrus trees, cows, and mining operations. So, no, it wasn’t developed into a community as near as I could tell.

  11. dpc says:

    Sorry Profxm, there is no law against stealing “ideas”. As far as the development of 5000 houses, etc., the area the church owns in southern Hillsborough county was being developed before the Great Recession and was to be sold off to anyone who wanted it.

  12. profxm says:


    There is no “law” against it in journalism. There are laws against it in other areas – like patents. And it runs counter to discipline specific ethics in academia, generally. In my field, Sociology, if someone took a blog post of mine and turned it into an article without giving me credit, I would have a very good case for filing an ethics violation against them via our professional association, the American Sociological Association. So, true, no law in journalism, but in other areas there are laws and ethical standards.

  13. Ren says:

    Do we really need laws to force us to be courteous and ethical? I hope you sent that reporter an email, profxm.

  14. profxm says:

    I emailed him.

  15. profxm says:

    He just replied and said that he did not use my post. Huh.

  16. chanson says:

    I guess the topic is simply newsworthy. You’d never guess it from the number of fly-bys we get on that post, explaining to us how pointless and uninteresting it is…

  1. January 23, 2012

    […] South Carolina primaries with volunteers from out of state Mormon colleges, which has been linked by Profxm, I thought that a quick note to put the event into context might be in […]

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