Crikey’s media critic Dr Stupid has caught The Australian’s China correspondent Lynne O’Donnell filing identical copy to her de facto. And read on who his first Australian media glossary.A few weeks back Crikey was tipped off by a rival to News Corp of similarities between copy filed for The Oz by O’Donnell and copy filed by her de facto, Damien McElroy, for various journals in Conrad Black’s stable, including The Scotsman and the UK Telegraph.

So we started monitoring the situation on the web and then sensing something amiss, proprietor Mayne took time off from his frantic self-publicity efforts to send an e-mail to O’Donnell’s superiors at Holt Street, asking for an explanation. Island Ad Placeholder

Turns out they had already been made aware of the situation, and had taken stern measures against their wayward correspondent. They told O’Donnell to never again file stuff that was also being run under her bloke’s name.

Perhaps part of that message was lost in translation somewhere between Sydney and China. Let’s look at some recent stories from the (presumably shared) desk of O’Donnell and McElroy:

Late in March, the pair filed pieces on China’s census. O’Donnell’s ran on the 28th, and McElroy’s on the 29th (in The Scotsman). They begin differently enough – just – so we can only assume that these were written after the Oz’s directive:

O’Donnell: The mysterious disappearance of hundreds of millions of people in China’s population figures has forced officials to delay releasing national census results until today.

McElroy: After a census marred by the disappearance of hundreds of millions of people, Chinese officials announced yesterday that the population has risen to 1.26 billion – a figure conspicuously short of government forecasts.

But further into the story, we find O’Donnell and McElroy once again marching in lockstep:

O’Donnell: “The figure they have is on the low side. They’ve been unable to get the real picture,” said Jin Zhichen, of the UN Population Fund in Beijing. “It appears people have disappeared. We don’t know where they are or how many of them there are.”

McElroy: “The figure they have is on the low side, they’ve been unable to get the real picture,” said Jin Zhichen of the UN Population Fund in Beijing. “It appears that people have disappeared. We don’t know where they are or how many of them there are.”

O’Donnell: “We never thought it would be so complicated,” said the Department of Population’s statistics chief, Xu Kang. “We have had to go back to households where the data looked erroneous or just illogical.”

McElroy: “We never thought it would be so complicated,” Xu Kang, head of the department of population’s statistics bureau, said. “We have had to go back to households where the data looked erroneous or just illogical.”

O’Donnell: “It was estimated China’s population should be about 1.3 billion, but the initial result fell below this target because many people failed to register,” said Zhan Jie, a researcher at the population institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. At the grassroots, the census could not be fully implemented because people were afraid of future punishment, he said.

McElroy: “It was estimated that China’s population should be around 1.3 billion; however, the initial result fell below this target because many people failed to register,” said Zhan Jie, a researcher at the population institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “At the grass roots the census could not be fully implemented because people were afraid of future punishment.”

Dr Stupid understands that China has a one child policy, but this one story policy is a bit of a surprise.

Let’s look at another recent collaboration. On March 29, a piece on the resurrected image of Mao Tse-tung appeared under McElroy’s byline in the Black-owned Canadian daily, the National Post. It began:

“Once the ultimate proletarian revolutionary who banished entrepreneurs to the countryside to learn from the peasants, Mao Tse-tung is undergoing a remarkable transformation into the guru of choice for Chinese businessmen.”

Several weeks later, on April 18, readers of The Australian who hadn’t already sought out McElroy’s story on the Net were treated to O’Donnell’s version. It began:

“The name Mao is once more ascendant in the East as the grandson of Mao Zedong leads a rush to capitalise on the late helmsman’s still-potent lustre.”

Different enough, yes? But look further, and again telling similarities appear:

McElroy: Businessmen such as Chen Jinfei, the founder of Beijing property group Tongchan International Investment, now use his words to strengthen corporate resolve and motivate employees. Quotations from Chairman Mao cover the walls of Tongchan’s reception area. In Mr. Chen’s office there are no fewer than nine large portraits of Mao. Pride of place is taken by Mr. Chen’s favourite slogan from Mao: “This army has an unbeatable spirit, it will fight any enemies and will not give in. No matter how harsh the environment, even if there is only one person left, he will keep on fighting.”

O’Donnell: businessmen such as Chen Jinfei, the founder of Beijing property group Tongchan International Investment, now use Mao’s words to strengthen corporate resolve and motivate employees. Quotations from Chairman Mao cover the walls of Tongchan’s reception area and in Mr Chen’s office there are no fewer than nine large portraits of Mao. Pride of place is taken by Mr Chen’s favourite slogan from Mao: “This army has an unbeatable spirit, it will fight any enemies and will not give in. No matter how harsh the environment, even if there is only one person left, he will keep on fighting.”

McElroy: The strategies Mao used in warfare are especially popular among businessman. His “surround and overwhelm” tactic when conquering large cities during the Chinese civil war has become a model for firms breaking into new markets.

O’Donnell: The strategies Mao used in warfare are especially popular among businessman, Mr Chen said. His “surround and overwhelm” tactic when conquering large cities during the Chinese civil war had become a model for businesses breaking into new markets, he said.

Of all places on earth, you’d think China would be one of the easier zones to find a different person to quote. They’re not exactly light on in the population department.

Apart from the obvious problems here, another issue is that the Oz ran a piece after a substantially similar story had already run so many weeks earlier. Anyone interested in Mao’s influence on modern Chinese business practices had presumably already tracked down McElroy’s story.

Over to you, Oz bosses. What’s the deal?

THE DOCTOR’S DEFINITIONS

Part one of a one-part series explaining the Australian press

Walkley Awards: Prizes given each year to ABC or Fairfax journalists to compensate for the fact that nobody read or watched their stories.

Business writer: Responsible for converting press releases from banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions into readable copy.

Foreign correspondent: The answer to the question, “What do you do with someone who’s too expensive to sack and too much of a pain to have hanging around?”

Mardi Gras: Annual Sydney event in which staff at The Australian offer a glimpse into their private lives.

Music writer: A part-time job usually held by someone who makes most of their income selling free promo CDs to music shops.

Horoscope: Can huge, gaseous, fiery orbs possibly have any influence on your life? Just ask anyone who’s ever worked with Col Allan.

Gossip columnist: Someone who hunts down all the dirt on the stars, for the purpose of concealing it from readers.

Environment writer: Someone whose articles about mankind’s degradation of the planet are published on tree corpses.

Caption: Short list of falsehoods and misinformation run below a photograph.

Television news: Newspapers read out loud and accompanied by moving pictures. A free service for the illiterate.

Friends of the ABC: A support group for elderly women who never recovered from the death of Andrew Olle.

Headline: Brief sequence of words carefully contrived so as to convey exactly the opposite meaning of the story it announces.

Opinion pages: In most papers, those pages in which columnists offer their opinions. In the Sydney Morning Herald, every single page of the paper.

Age: Period of time since Melbourne’s broadsheet printed anything worth reading.

Sub-editor: Responsible for adding the union-mandated minimum number of errors to each story.

Sports columnist: Someone who holds incredibly bold and strikingly fearless opinions about people who chase balls around a park.

Pay TV: A marketing experiment designed to discover whether people are stupid enough to exchange cash for Brady Bunch re-runs.

Health writer: Someone who only writes about disease.

Television writer: Someone who writes about something most people can’t even be bothered talking about.

Copy: So named because it is usually copied from old file stories or rival papers.

Fashion writer: Always, without exception, the worst-dressed person in the office.

Political writer: With the exception of this guy.

Peter Fray

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