When “Ode On A Grecian Urn” isn’t in Nexis

You know the story: girl writes article, girl publishes article, article is ripped off by a foreign publication, second girl reads foreign publication and gets an idea for a great article. Second girl writes article. Chaos ensues.

If the articles were attractive starlets and the foreign paper were a charming rake who genuinely wanted to love them both, it would be a perfect February vehicle for Matthew McConaughey. If, however, the first girl is Alexandra Wolfe who wrote a story on ambitious parents hiring Mandarin-speaking nannies to help prepare their children for the global economy which was published in New York magazine on April 4, 2005, then that must mean the other girl is Samantha Marshall of Crain’s, whose article on ambitious parents hiring Mandarin-speaking nannies to help prepare their children for the global economy appeared today. Ouch.

The two stories feature the same Upper West Side little moppet, Hilton Augusta Rogers, and her nanny, Shirley who speaks Mandarin to her. Both stories feature the same experts, Clifton Greenhouse from the upscale Pavillion Agency, which places nannies and au pairs. The Crain’s story says that Shirley has been Hilton’s nanny for six months. Which is funny, because the NY Mag article was published in April – ten months ago.

I spoke to Samantha Marshall today, who said she was shocked to learn that New York had run a story. She’d gotten the idea (and the sources) from The China Daily, which cites little Hilton, her parents, Greenhouse and trumpets the Chinese-nanny trend. It also ends with the anecdote that opens the New York story.

Marshall said she’d run a Nexis search and found nothing (because New York‘s archives aren’t in Nexis)*, and nothing had turned up in Google. (In Fishbowl’s Google search for “mandarin manhattan nannies” the China Daily story was first and the New York story was fourth.) Marshall also said that she’d interviewed all her sources herself; she’d “had absolutely no idea.” Said Marhshall, clearly frustrated: “If I had known that New York had done the story I never would have pitched it.”

So, what do we take from this? I’m inclined to believe Marshall — knowing the story was out there and ripping it off wholesale is both egregious and boneheaded in the extreme — but it is an instructive lesson. Lifting stories is easy, checking up on them is not (for some examples, check Regret The Error). I guess the moral of the story is to check and check and then check again. Another moral of the story is not to trust Matthew McConaughey in February. That new movie with Sarah Jessica Parker can’t be good.

UPDATE: Wow, get me Hilton Augusta Rogers’ press agent — that kid’s been all over. Turns out the China Daily story was syndicated from Der Spiegel. New York magazine apparently doesn’t need to be in Lexis. Thanks to DaddyGreg for the info. Oh, the temptation to make a “who’s your daddy?” joke. But I will refrain.

*To find a story from New York, you have to search either Dialog, WestLaw, or something called “FirstSearch.” Or, you know, Google. Screenshot from the trusty FullText Sources Online, that tells you which archives are where after the jump, courtesy of MB Associate Editor and Fishbowl stalwart Aileen Gallagher.

January 31, 2006:
New York families think global, seek Chinese nannies [Crain’s]

January 6, 2006:
Chinese nannies are the latest New York trend [China Daily]

April 4, 2005:
Parents are Teaching Their Infants Chinese to Compete in the Global Economy [New York]

What “Ode On A Grecian Urn” has to do with copyright [PressJournal]