In Ethics on August 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm
This week, in the trials of a local newspaper editor, I’m sharing a story of plagiarism masquerading as marketing.
At issue was a provided column about an upcoming seminar on the topic of aging gracefully. The author was a local therapist who was giving her lecture at the local senior center. The problem came when it read a little … too well. I suppose I could use some software to help me sniff out copy and paste, but my own senses seem to work pretty well. So I copied a snippet into Google and found the same material here. And here. And here. You get the picture.
So I wrote a fairly snotty email to the nice lady who runs the senior center accusing the author of plagiarism and giving her a high-minded lecture on the integrity of our little newspaper and how I won’t run a plagiarized column.
It turns out it is a bit more complicated than I thought. The copy wasn’t so much purloined as it was purchased. The therapist got the marketing material from a national outfit that authorizes its use with its program that she is delivering here. Oh. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on July 22, 2016 at 8:27 am
There was a bit of an uproar on the plagiarism beat this week. Perhaps you heard.
This time the culprit (or victim, depending on your perspective, I guess) was Melania Trump. Her speech before the Republican National Committee on Monday was, in places, word-for-word the same as Michelle Obama’s speech before Democrats eight years earlier. I guess that means the two sides agree on more than they will admit.
If I were a plagiarist, I would call stealing words the unoriginal sin. Since I’m not, I’ll tell you that line comes from Poynter’s Peter Roy Clark. And sin it is. There is no greater sin in our business than taking passages from someone else and passing them off as your own. It’s unethical and it can get you fired.
Because it is so important, please take a moment to read Benjamin Mullin’s good and short explanation of plagiarism on the Poynter site. He walks us through the kinds of plagiarism and their definition.
Look: Journalists who take the words of others aren’t really journalists at all. It’s like buying the cookies at the grocery store, transferring them into your Tupperware and calling yourself a baker. It’s ludicrous and a lie. Let’s stipulate that we aren’t liars. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on September 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm
From Benjamin Mullin’s post on the Poynter Institute blog.
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. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing on August 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm
In case you are wondering, plagiarism is a bad idea. It’s morally wrong, you will be caught eventually and, if you are a writer, it will likely render you unemployable.
Despite the obvious nature of all that, as USA Today columnist Rem Rieder noted recently, we are in the midst of a golden age of cheaters. There have been high-profile cases involving the website BuzzFeed, the New York Times and even a U.S. senator. (You might have seen that Montana Democrat John Walsh announced on Thursday that he was bowing out of his run for re-election after being caught cheating on an academic paper years earlier.)
It’s hard to understand why anyone would copy and paste the work of another. There should be no ambiguity. While some who are caught try to tell us that it was a simple mistake, the plagiarist meant to add attribution or whatever, invariably we find out that virtually no one steals the words of others only the one time. It’s almost always becomes the modus operandi.
As Rieder points out, if you steal words you will almost certainly get caught some day. Now that our stories go out worldwide over the Internet, it’s exceedingly easy to copy a block of your text, run it through the Google machine and see if the phraseology is original thought. In case you are wondering, yes, I’ve caught people working for Wick (more often than not volunteer community columnists) who had simply stolen the work of others and presented it as their own. Recently, I spoke with a Wick editor who had suspicions about one of that newspaper’s columnists. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on August 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm
There has been a lot of talk of late about the nature of journalism in a world in which so much is so easily cut from the Internet and pasted on to our own screens. Most recently, Fareed Zakaria – a well-known national reporter who writes for Time and appears on CNN – nearly derailed his career after borrowing (to use a polite word) the words of others and claiming those words as his own.
In a column appearing on Reuters, journalism professor Steven Brill compares the transgression to stealing someone’s TV set. He notes that it would be hard to suggest you merely made a mistake by stealing the television.
I don’t think Brill is being intellectually honest with that one. Here’s why: It’s usually much easier to steal intellectual property than it is to take something tangible.
And that is no excuse. I’m merely noting that cutting and pasting is ubiquitous and easy to do. Walking away with a flat-screen takes a little more elbow grease. That is part of the problem. There are all those words on the Internet. Some of them are arranged in ways we wish we’d thought of first. Every day I see something I wish I’d written.
Many of us also cut and paste things into some kind of master notes document as we research our own stories. We intend to use the work as background. I think it is possible (well, I sort of think it’s possible) to accidentally incorporate a snippet of someone’s work into our own work in this way.
Given the temptation, is it a good idea to read other stuff on the Web before producing our own prose on a subject? I think so. But it requires a level of professionalism and confidence in your own abilities. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on October 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm
This is so obvious that I run the risk of insulting you by even bringing it up. Please make sure the stuff under your byline is your own.
There have always been rogue reporters who have “borrowed” story ideas, ledes, quips, even entire pieces from others — all without attribution. That was bad enough. But lately there has been quite a bit of back and forth in the industry press about entire news organizations that have made such practices habit in their cubicles.
The Daily Mail, in the United Kingdom, has become so notorious for stealing stories that the Poynter folks have dubbed the practice “pulling a Daily Mail.” Even more recently, journalists have complained that a handful of the many Examiner.com contributors have been cribbing a bit too liberally. There was even a Twitter hashtag, #examinerplagierism. Ouch.
Borrowing journalism (to be charitable) has never been easier. A few keystrokes and you have “produced” a story your editor will grin over. It’s possible for such things to be a simple mistake. You might be working on a story about, say, tractor-trailer crashes on the open highway and run a Google search. You might see a story in the Columbus Dispatch, reporting on the rising frequency of such crashes. You might cut and paste a part of that story into a Word document, planning it as background, maybe something you will ask a source about later. If you aren’t careful, that chunk of someone else’s work becomes a part of your story and, if it does, you have just committed a journalistic sin. … Read the rest of this entry »