By Eileen Douglas

Surrogate mothers. Cheats who take tests for you. Parents who do their kid’s homework. I’ve heard of those. Even stories out of some pretty high-toned publications where the reporter made up all or part of a juicy, award-winning article.

But in all my years since filing my first piece as a journalist I’ve never heard of a newspaper reporter hiring someone else to write their copy for them!

Until now.

Obviously, in broadcast, even though that has to be your face on the TV screen, or your voice on the radio, it’s possible that someone else helps you get your story together. A writer. A producer. But, if that’s the case, it’s upfront. It’s part of the job. And all your colleagues know that’s how you’re getting on the air.

But in print, where all you’ve got to sell is that you’re the writer, it seems a little absurd to have someone else “take the test for you.” To insert “a someone who is really writing the story” between you --- the reporter --- and the editor’s desk. Secretly. Why would you get someone else to write the copy you turn in? Their work. With your name on it. I mean, isn’t that the bottom-line, stripped bare definition of the reporter’s job? Isn’t that the fun of it? Your pen. Your pad. And your thoughts.

Yet, here in the paper I’m reading is a story about a music writer and columnist for The San Antonio Express-News who resigned after the paper accused him of hiring a ghostwriter to produce more than 100 articles for him, under his byline, since 2001. Supposedly, this reporter was “trying to be the best reporter/syndicated columnist I could be.” The implication is he didn’t think his own stuff was good enough. I guess he thought his ghostwriter/accomplice did a better job.

This brings up all kinds of thoughts. I can see it now. Meeting in dark alleys to turn over the sneak copy. Since no one actually has to see you writing your story, and no one would suspect you were doing it, I guess you can get away with it.

If it’s a concert, do you spring for the extra ticket, beyond the one you probably got as a freebie because you’re the music maven for the paper? Or do you get your secret scribbler in for nothing under a pretense, say as your guest, so he or she can be there to get their firsthand impressions? Gives new meaning to the term sneak preview. If you’re doing a feature, say on a rock band or a visiting violinist, do you bring your “sub” along with you? Perhaps presented as your own groupie? Or do you just share your notes later at a coffee shop?

If you think about it, it raises all kinds of other possibilities. And there actually are times when the practice might come in handy. What if hard news reporters took up the practice?

Imagine, when the phone rings, if you had some lackey in your sway you could roust from THEIR warm bed to go cover a plane crash in a muddy field in the middle of the night on the ice coldest day of winter, while you roll yourself back under the covers. And then get to file their copy with your name for the world to see, and THEIR tush frozen. What a great deal is that! Or imagine getting out of having to figure a way to make your zillionth, boring City Council meeting copy sing. Let someone else sit through it. Or have them listen in on an earpiece while you just take up a seat in the chambers.

Perhaps on a day when she’s not feeling funny, Maureen Dowd could get her aunt or sister to file a piece. (If she has an aunt or sister who’s funny.) Maybe the foreign correspondent in Afghanistan who feels stressed hanging around the resurgent Taliban could, instead, be phoning it in while soaking up the rays in Dubai.

As for our music reporter in San Antonio, I hope he paid “him” or “her.”

That, too, raises all kinds of questions. Why would the other person do it? What took the newspaper so long to find out? Is this the only time it’s happened? Or has this kind of trick been done before and we just never heard about it? Truth is, what you write for a newspaper is done out of sight. All that composing takes place between you and your keyboard. If you want to cheat and hire someone else to write your copy, good chance no one would know about it. So maybe the question shouldn’t be “How did the newspaper finally find out?” Perhaps it should be, “How would a newspaper EVER find out?”

My name is Eileen Douglas, and I really did write this column. Really. I did.

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for “ABC-TV’s Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down Heart,” and co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml:My Heart Remembers.” She can be reached at




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