Questions emerge about Deaf News Today and its owner

During the 2013 Deaflympics held in Sofia, Bulgaria, last July, the USA Deaf Sports Federation (USADSF) began receiving reports alleging Deaf News Today (DNT) was plagiarizing articles, photographs and tweets from the USADSF media team. The team, comprised of volunteer writers, editors, photographers and videographers, posted materials on Facebook, Twitter, and the USADSF website. DNT initially reposted the materials, but didn’t directly link to the USADSF website. Rather, DNT pointed all visitors to its own website. It was only after the reader clicked on another link at the DNT website that the original source was revealed.

The DNT website is a no-frills news aggregator blog site featuring articles from news sources around the world, and boasts over 1 million page views and 12,000 Twitter followers.

The person behind Deaf News Today

By clicking on the “About” link, visitors learn that Stephen Goforth runs the website:

DNT (Deaf New Today) provides clear and concise news coverage about deaf-related issues. Former CNN anchor and current journalism professor Stephen Goforth started the site more than a decade ago. We are committed to follow [sic] the highest standards of journalism. The goal is to bring you objective news reports. We do not take sides, but try to present all the facts we have in our possession and let the readers decide for themselves. DNT avoids sources that are not authoritative and issues corrections whenever necessary (though this is a rarity).  If you do not see a story on DNT, it might be that the information has not been verified or the information does not rise to the level of reportable news. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to write us at DeafNewsToday@gmail.com.  And thank you for visiting! We hope you are better informed and empowered by what you find here.

plnu faculty profileGoforth appears to have an impressive background, according to the Point Loma Nazarene University’s Department of Literature, Journalism and Modern Languages faculty page:

Stephen Goforth teaches multimedia journalism, news writing, reporting, and digital newsgathering. In order to help students better grasp the move toward digital communication, he authored a textbook titled Media Shift: Journalism in a Connected World. His website Media-Shift.com helps students and professionals stay abreast of changes and trends taking place in new media. He stepped into teaching after working more than seven years at CNN as a [sic] anchor, writer and producer, covering stories such as 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sharing in the network’s Peabody Awards for Hurricane Katrina coverage and the tsunami disaster in South Asia.  Stephen maintains several news sites including ChristianNewsReport.com and DeafNewsToday.com, which is considered one of Deaf Culture’s most influential sources of information.  He launched his media career with his father, who owns three Christian-formatted radio stations in Mobile, Alabama.  Stephen went on to earn his Masters Degree [sic] in Journalism [sic] from The American University in Washington, DC. While in the nation’s capital, he anchored radio network news for Salem Radio Network and worked in a variety of TV positions covering Congress and the federal courts. Stephen combines provocative videos, intense discussion and the latest research to encourage students toward critical thinking about the media and its influence on American society. [Note: A few days after this story was posted, this biography was updated at the Point Loma website.]

According to the Peabody website, the George Foster Peabody Awards are the world’s oldest awards for media that recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and eklybcasters, producing organizations, and individuals. To confirm the two Peabody Awards Goforth claims to have shared in, an email was sent to Peabody Awards Collection Archivist Mary L. Miller. She stated in a Nov. 4th email that CNN “did not win a Peabody for coverage of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.” In fact, CNN has never received any Peabody awards for any tsunami event coverage; it is unclear how Goforth can share in an award that doesn’t exist.

goforth about meHowever, for CNN’s Hurricane Katrina Peabody Award, Miller explained, “When a program or series wins a Peabody Award, everyone who contributed to its creation does share in the award.” According to Miller, CNN submitted at least 12 programs and Goforth’s name is not on any of the entry forms. This could mean one of two things: Goforth’s role was so minor that it did not warrant a mention on the entry form, or he was not involved in any way.

Except for several self-promotional websites, including one at about.me/stephengoforth, Goforth has no published articles anywhere on the Internet aside from his “Media Shift” book. Almost all of the websites mentioning Goforth are either his own, or operated by his colleagues; Goforth has several blog sites, mostly Christian-focused or technology-focused.

There apparently also are no published works at the two universities at which he is known to have taught: the University of Mississippi and Point Loma Nazarene University. Efforts to verify his statement that he was a regional CNN news anchor and producer and an Associated Press editor were unsuccessful, although it was confirmed that he attended The American University and taught at the University of Mississippi. The College of Arts and Sciences Dean at Point Loma Nazarene University, Kathryn McConnell, also confirmed Goforth’s present employment at the university.

At Point Loma Nazarene University, for the Fall 2013 semester, Goforth teaches a yearbook workshop, television news writing, and media ethics and law. He is slated to teach two introductory journalism classes along with a college composition class and a yearbook workshop during the Spring 2014 semester.

Transparency: Goforth’s connection to the Deaf community

Goforth cites his website as “one of Deaf Culture’s [sic] most influential sources of information,” yet he seems to lack a direct connection to the Deaf community. While that may seem insignificant to the average reader, this is of paramount importance within the Deaf community.As is true for many other cultures, transparency is key in the Deaf community.  In the 1995 book, “Journey into the DEAF-WORLD” by Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Ben Bahan, the authors explain:

When members of the DEAF–WORLD meet, they introduce themselves and their companions. . . They give capsule life histories so that each can see how the others are connected to the DEAF– WORLD network. For unlike other cultures, Deaf culture is not associated with a single place, a “native land”; rather, it is a culture based on relationships among people for whom a number of places and associations may provide common ground. (p. 5)

Benjamin Bahan, Ph.D., a professor of Deaf studies at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., said, “Since Deaf culture is based on relationship-building, it often becomes necessary for one – especially if hearing – to explain how he or she gets to be involved in the deaf community. One also typically has to explain what role he or she has in the community: member, teacher, interpreter, visitor and so on.”

Although Goforth has declined to explain his involvement, an April 23, 2007 post at The Weekly Standard (link no longer available) offers a possible connection, referring to the 2006 Gallaudet protests:

“AS A JOURNALIST WORKING at CNN with friends who attended Gallaudet, I became aware of a lack of reputable information about the school and about Deaf Culture [sic]. That led me to start a website focused on news related to the deaf (deafnewstoday.com). Having closely followed the protests at Gallaudet, I was impressed with Charlotte Allen’s analysis. While some of it misplaces emphasis and elevates radical opinions to an undeserved level of importance, she nevertheless provides an excellent review and well-stated summary of the identity issues facing the deaf community.

STEPHEN GOFORTH
 Atlanta, Ga.”

Goforth was emailed on Aug. 5 and again on Aug. 11 about his background and his involvement with the Deaf community. He  responded on Aug. 16 with,  “I appreciate your reaching out and interest in the website, as well as sharing your background with me, but will decline the offer because making myself the center of attention would take the focus off of the news stories. To that end, if you see an inaccuracy in a story or have a story idea, please let me know.”

Goforth, whose DNT email address has the alias of “Neal Down,” did not respond to further requests. Even so, he apparently continues to advocate for the Deaf community. On Oct. 3, an uncaptioned video – which since has had captions added – was posted on the Voice of America website. Goforth left a comment:

by: Stephen Goforth from: San Diego
October 03, 2013 4:55 PM
Captions on the video would be good for your deaf readers–especially since the story is focused on the deaf community.

Stephen Goforth

Interestingly, Goforth’s video at his own blog promoting his “Media Shift” book isn’t captioned, unless automatic captioning is turned on. However, automatic captions, such as those used in his video, are notoriously of poor quality. Videos on his other websites also aren’t captioned.

Not in it for the money

It is curious, then, why Goforth, a hearing person with seemingly no, or very limited, connection to the deaf community, wants to, as he described in an email, “try to help people know what’s going on in the deaf community because there is [sic] not a lot of places you can go to find stories.”

Lest anyone think he’s in this for the money, he was quick to clarify in an email to a deaf-focused media outlet, “By the way, I have never sold an ad on the site, I have never gotten a donation from it (despite the button on the site that allows donations) and have only get [sic] a few dollars every six months or so from third party Google ads. Implying that I’m trying to make money. . .is kind of laughable.”

dnt ad pricesIn addition to the Google ads, Goforth sells advertising space on the DNT website, as shown in this graphic taken from the DNT site on Aug. 19. Banner ads are available from $150 to $350 per month. The website also has a PayPal donation button. The information he reposts is freely and readily available through news feeds.

Furthermore, the DNT domain was purchased on Feb. 16, 2005, and the website only has articles dating back to 2007. There seems to be no clear evidence that DNT began in 2001 as Goforth claims. If the DNT website was indeed created in 2001, his claim that “there is [sic] not a lot of places you can go to find stories” is hardly accurate. In 2001, there were numerous publications specializing in deaf news, including Silent News, a community newspaper, and USA-L, an email news aggregator run by the late Phil Moos. There also were several other email news aggregators as far back as the 1990s.

site originationEven if 2005 is DNT’s actual start date as shown in his domain registration, there were multiple news outlets in 2005, including SIGNews, another community newspaper.

The Deaflympics coverage

When the USADSF media team, on location at the Deaflympics in Bulgaria, learned that their hard work was being reposted by DNT without direct credit, they were understandably unhappy. They were, after all, working on a volunteer basis.

DNT was taking USADSF content – articles and photographs – from the USADSF Facebook page and re-posting them on the DNT Facebook page and website.  Instead of just “sharing” the information – by making a single click on the SHARE button on the USADSF Facebook page, DNT was copying/pasting the photographs and contents onto the DNT Facebook page. The links didn’t point to the USADSF website; rather, they pointed back to the DNT website. It was only after arriving at the DNT website that a link to the USADSF site was seen. By one USADSF media team member’s account, there were at least 48 instances of taken information from both the USADSF Facebook page and USADSF website, all with no direct link to the USADSF website.

DNT1 DNT2 DNT3 DNT4 DNT5 DNT6 DNT7

A similar pattern was followed with the USADSF Twitter feed. Instead of simply retweeting USADSF’s posts – where USADSF would be clearly identified as the original source – DNT duplicated the message in its own account with direct links to the DNT site. Again, it was only when a visitor clicked through to the DNT site, and then clicked again on yet another link, that the original USADSF source finally appeared.

This was at best misleading, and at worst, plagiarism and copyright violation. When confronted by USADSF, Goforth claimed that since USADSF was a non-profit entity, he was in fact helping them by using their “promotional materials.” In numerous emails with the media team, Goforth – whose emails seemed condescending at times – responded that he had done nothing wrong. He also stated that he had contacted USADSF prior to the Deaflympics to ask where he could find their news updates. USADSF responded to his inquiry and said that the information would be on the USADSF website, Facebook page and Twitter account. There was no further communication until USADSF contacted him during the Deaflympics.  Additionally, USADSF never gave Goforth explicit or implicit permission to copy and paste the articles and photos to his own sites.

Goforth also wrote, “I created the site and maintained it for a decade to try to help people know what’s going on in the deaf community because there is [sic] not a lot of places you can go to find stories. I suppose it would make you feel better if you could dismiss this as some sort of financial scheme. But it seems to be mostly my misunderstanding your purposes. And my experiences simply don’t line up with what you believe is typical.  However, since my goal was to help and not hurt, I’ve taken everything down about Deaflympics and will avoid the subject in the future.”

Some may argue that since Goforth did have a link, albeit buried, on his website to USADSF’s original content, he was not violating copyright. While clicking “share” on Facebook is allowed as a sharing technique (covered by Facebook’s terms of usage, and supported by the fact that “shares” on Facebook lead back to the original source), any copying and pasting onto individual Facebook pages or external sites is a copyright violation. Copyright law is something that a journalism professor teaching media ethics and law would likely be familiar with and discuss in class.

bisondancenov9Articles, photographs and videos from some of the larger “mainstream” media sources, such as ESPN, are credited clearly on the DNT website. Yet Goforth, a media ethics and law professor, continues to repost content from other sources at DNT, without clear attribution to the original source. For example, on Nov. 9, DNT posted a video of “The Bison Dance.” Even after one clicks on the video, it is not clear who originally created this video. It is only when one goes directly to the YouTube site that the original source is identified: Gallaudet University’s athletics department.

Current status

Numerous emails from various individuals to Point Loma Nazarene University’s dean and provost have gone mostly unanswered. As of press time, DNT has 12,906 followers on Twitter, 3,721 likes on Facebook, and 1,250,243 page views on the DNT website.

– Robert Weinstock, Bill Millios, Tara Schupner Congdon, and Rosa Ramirez contributed to this article.

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My thoughts on the DNT story

 

I had never heard of Deaf News Today (DNT) until the 2013 Deaflympics. Although I have no affiliation with the USADSF media team, I was perplexed anyone would do this to USADSF, so I went to check the DNT website out. I figured this was simply a case of misguided hearing people trying to either help and/or profit from deaf people. Now, especially with the claim of receiving the Peabody Award for the tsunami coverage proven false, I’m left with even more questions:

  1. Privacy concerns aside, why is Goforth so resistant to talking about his cultural ties to the deaf community?
  2. Why is he running Deaf News Today if he’s not in it for the money as he says? Altruism?
  3. Why are there so many discrepancies between his claims about who he is, what he’s done, and what is verifiable?
  4. Why does DNT claim to have been around since 2001, when the evidence shows Deaf News Today has been registered only since 2005?
  5. Why is a professor of journalism violating the very principles he is presumably teaching?
  6. Why are there no articles or videos by Goforth anywhere online from his time with CNN and Associated Press?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t know why Goforth isn’t being accountable or transparent. It’s not for lack of opportunity; I have offered him at least two opportunities to tell his side. I’m hoping there is a simple explanation to all this. Joining, or at least allying with, a community should come with an inherent respect for that community’s traditions and cultural norms. I continue to invite Goforth to offer an explanation for the discrepancies in his biographies and on the DNT website.

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Comments

  1. Excellent coverage. I just raise a red flag on Stephen Goforth. While I type his last name, I wondered if he even had his last name changed. Goforth. *SMH*

  2. Michele Westfall says:

    “Goforth”…that sounds fake. Anyway…if it’s not money or altruism, it could be ego (wanting to be a big fish in a small pond). Hearing society, take note: we Deaf people have our own media, thank you.

  3. Tom Willard says:

    This was a great read. Congratulations to all involved for an excellent investigative piece a la The New York Times. I am glad to see that we still have such detailed coverage in the deaf community after the deaths of most of our print publications. I am looking forward to the next investigative report. Maybe you could look into DeafDigest, which profits handsomely from its violation of anti-spam laws. I know Trudy did a story on this subject before — it helped inspire me to start Deafweekly — but it could be time for an update.

  4. Teresa Blankmeyer Burke says:

    This is an important post — I’m so glad to see more investigative blog journalism happening! My field is applied ethics, and while I’m not an expert in media ethics, I have developed two courses on social media ethics and I run a research ethics program that deals with similar issues (e.g. intellectual property, authorship, plagiarism). Misattribution of ideas to authors is a huge issue in my book, but for the most part, my approach is that people who are not academics (and not trained to cite, cite, cite) need to be educated. In this case, Goforth is not only an academic (so he obviously knows better), but an academic who teaches media ethics! I, too, await his explanation. Thanks, Trudy, for calling this matter to the attention of the community!

  5. Thank you for waking us up as I agree, we can take care of ourselves. Goforth reminds me of native person who thinks deaf people are helpless. When I studied for MSW at Gallaudet; I was disappointed in some hearing students’ reason to become social worker for deaf is because we are ‘helpless’. Thank you for people like you to prod into this questionable DNT. *SMH*

  6. Williambalf says:

    Hey, thanks for the forum topic. Keep writing.

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