Plagiarism isn’t going away. In fact, it’s easier than ever before to commit and catch what Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark called “the unoriginal sin.” Sometimes well-meaning people copy and paste as if it were an acceptable part of the writing process. Others are just flat intellectually dishonest. Because writing is hard, it’s easier to steal prose on the Internet than do battle with the white screen in front of them.
I suspect this is less of a problem for local newspapers than it is for regional or national sources. That’s because no one else is writing about the Japanese students who are in Palmer, Alaska, this week. (Shout out to Caitlin Skvorc up there in Wasilla!) If, on the other hand, you are writing about the western response to ISIS, there is a great temptation to steal from very good journalism produced elsewhere.
Most of the suspect prose I see in Wick papers comes from outsiders. It tends to be written by religion columnists accustomed to cribbing parts of the weekly sermon or political partisans cut/pasting their way to that attack on some member of Congress for the local opinion page. Perhaps that is understandable, but it is absolutely not acceptable. As an editorial staff member of a Wick paper it is your duty to challenge anything that strikes you as plagiarism. Our reputation depends on it. …
But how do you do that and how do you know if something is stolen? Well, it’s an inexact science, but if you read all day, as I do, you know when an author seems a little too good at what she’s doing. Or when the transitions sound strange. Or when some local gadfly is referencing things you doubt he knows anything about. When that happens, I grab a snippet and Google it. Usually, it’s just that easy.
But what if only parts of it are stolen? How much is fair use? I suggest you read Benjamin Mullin’s very good take on the subject on Poynter. He covers the definition of plagiarism, excessive aggregation, self-plagiarism and patchwriting.