by Alan Ferdman
It was time for the Ferdman family to get out of town for a little “rest & relaxation,” and we were ready to go. I have to chuckle about why I am talking in the past tense. I am writing this column before we leave and you will be reading it after we are back in town. So, even in advance, I will say we had a great time.
A week in Maui, along with gliding through the air on a zipline, snorkeling in clear water, attending a luau, sightseeing across the island, lounging by the pool and just kicking back at the hotel cabana: What could be better than that? But then, I thought, how am I going to handle my weekly Gazette column space? It would be a shame to leave it blank.
When I started writing for the Gazette, Doug told me I could skip a week now and then. But when I did it last time I left town, I was inundated with questions asking why my column was AWOL. To avoid all the drama this time, I would have to do something different, so I pondered my options. I could take a laptop with me and write the column in Hawaii. That might work, but if I take my laptop and start typing in the hotel room it will not be a real vacation. Hmm, next I thought, what about enlisting the aid of a “ghostwriter”? I could choose someone who would be in town and could write about current local issues. But then, I remembered just how unethical I thought it was when I found out our city councilmembers do not write the weekly columns which show up in our local publications with their names and pictures attached.
It all started when I noticed a previous city councilmember was absent from the councilmember column rotation in The Signal. I wondered why he didn’t he want to be included. As it turns out, he informed me, those weekly columns were not written by the councilmembers themselves. Instead, the articles were generated by the city staff public relations officer and published without councilmembers’ prior approval. When he requested the ability to approve and edit the columns prior to publication, the staff simply stopped writing for him and excluded him from the process altogether. By now, I’ll bet the majority of those reading this column know who the past councilmember and prior city public relations officer are.
Here in Santa Clarita, several individuals writing for local publications have been accused of using, and representing, other people’s words as their own, or plagiarism. Letters to the editor along with negative comments on Facebook came forth like a tidal wave, criticizing those authors. There were discussions about their lack of ethics and credibility, with many suggesting the individuals identified should not be allowed to publish articles in the future. Think about it. Why is plagiarism unacceptable, but allowing your name to be used as the author of something you did not write, or even read and approve prior to publication, not be considered just as bad? Both misrepresent and mislead the reader.
Allowing your name to be used in such an indiscriminate way is never a good idea. I recall a couple of election cycles ago, when a young gentleman’s campaign staff sent out an email for the candidate with the candidate’s name on it, creating a firestorm of accusations of collusion between him and another candidate. If the City of Santa Clarita Public Relations Office wants to create and publish information about what is going on in the city, they should put their own names on it, or get text approval by the councilmember who will be identified as the author, prior to publication. Even better would be the concept of having councilmembers write and publish material informing the public of their position on issues of interest to our valley.
Lastly, I have great concern about any person of authority who would allow material to be published in this manner. I am beginning to wonder how prevalent the situation is in City Hall. Is this method, of ghostwriting and indicating that another person wrote it, ethical? Aren’t our councilmembers concerned about what gets written and published under their names? Who sets policies for councilmember publications? Who is in charge and running the store? Shouldn’t the councilmembers set the ground rules? Well, there will be plenty of time to find out after my vacation and I intend to peruse the issue further.
For me, I am not going to step into the quagmire of misrepresenting who writes “Always Advocating Alan.” All the articles are written only by me. That is why I am at the keyboard, writing this column before my wife Pam and I leave on vacation, and you are reading it after we are back in town.
Even though this is sort of like writing a “Back to the Future” script, I will still say, in advance, we had a great time.