That Charlie LeDuff piece in the NYT last week on kayaking the L.A. River was too familiar for Blake Gumprecht, author of the 1999 book The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth. He complained to the Times that the story was based on his research without attribution. The result was an editor's note in Monday's paper.
An article last Monday about the Los Angeles River recounted its history and described the reporter's trip downriver in a kayak. In research for the article, the reporter consulted a 1999 book by Blake Gumprecht, "The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth." Several passages relating facts and lore about the river distilled passages from the book. Although the facts in those passages were confirmed independentlythrough other sources or the reporter's first hand observationthe article should have acknowledged the significant contribution of Mr. Gumprecht's research.
Slate's Jack Shafer reviews the episode in a piece posted yesterday. I agree with him that some of the comparisons Gumprecht complains about would be fine to me. For instance, the author finds these two passages suspicious:
LeDuff: "The river is crossed by more than 100 bridges."
Book: "Millions of people cross it every day on more than a hundred bridges."
Looks like a basic fact discernible from any map to me, and the writing isn't that similar. So no one else should describe the river as crossed by 100 bridges because Gumprecht did? Some passages are closer, but I think if LeDuff had acknowledged consulting the book (and other published sources) the author would have nothing to complain about. It's research, not plagiarism. Keith Kelly in the New York Post today makes the stretch that it could cast a shadow over LeDuff's own book, a compilation of his New York Times pieces due out in January.
edited 10:45 a.m.