Words, the Arts and the World « PREV | NEXT »: Ghostwriting Isn't Standard Operating Procedure

June 12, 2008

Haunting news for a critic and about a critic

When the Poynter Institute's Romenesko runs a news item about critics, well, it jumps out at you. Many have probably already seen this, but just in case you have not, it's worth poynting out:

Ramiro Burr, an esteemed music critic and columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, resigned Tuesday in the face of an ethics investigation. A former intern of his -- Douglas Shannon, who had worked with Burr at a music PR firm -- alleges that he ghost-wrote more than 100 stories and columns for Burr since 2001. 

  "I may have been a little overzealous, or overreached in trying to be the best reporter/syndicated columnist I could be," award-winning Burr said in his statement of resignation. "I sincerely apologize for breaking any rules."

Burr's Latin Notes blog and the 20 years he's spent focusing journalism attention on Latin music have brought attention and understanding and appreciation to that genre. Interestingly, and you should read the full story, Shannon and his lawyers appear to be only seeking to get credit, retroactive credit. And, Shannon made this curious remark:

 "I'm [also] disappointed that the Express-News didn't notice the changes in the work he was turning in between 2001 and 2003. Unfortunately, Burr's ethics violations were not isolated slip-ups but were repeated, frequent, and continued over a significant period of time. I hope readers and researchers will continue to peruse and benefit from Mr. Burr's work, especially his pieces from the 1980s and 1990s."

So, the ghost writer appears to be hurt that the Express-News editors did not detect a difference between what Burr wrote and what Shannon wrote. Hmmmmm...aren't good ghost writers supposed to blend in, be invisible? That's why they are ghosts?

June 12, 2008 11:58 AM | | Comments (3)


Incredible as it may seem, telling interesting stories and providing context and perspective were more important to me than mimicking Burr's style. Why wouldn't I try to be more influenced by a superior Latin music writer such as Leila Cobo?

You imply that my mandate was to be the best ghostwriter possible rather than simply do the best I could at reporting on Latin music.

"Ghostwriting" is a term used by the Express-News. When a syndicated columnist employs and pays someone to assist in the production of columns, articles and other editorial items, it's called editorial assistant. It's a common practice, which Burr used in other environments, but was prohibited from doing at the Express-News due to its own policies.
We don't have the benefit of reviewing Mr. Shannon's work for pay, but why now bring all this up five years after it was voluntarily stopped? Sounds like a smear campaign.

T.D., "assist in the production" may be a comforting euphemism, but I was doing more than that.

It's a little extravagant to label what I did "a smear campaign" when I am a nobody who simply sought the credit that the Express-News' policy entitles me to.

Whistleblowing is rarely easy, and I trusted Burr with extra chances in hopes that things would improve, but I came to believe that they wouldn't.

Frankly, I wish the Express-News had sleuthed this out on its own and I'd never had to come forward. Some "smear campaign," huh?

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