Is journalistic plagiarism out of control?

Is journalistic plagiarism out of control? by Greg Tingle

Have you read this article before?

If you do a considerable amount of reading, you quite likely have!

Plagiarism is not a new phenomenon in the journalistic world, however, some will say it has run rampant ever since news media websites and "bloggers" became prevalent.

It seems everybody wants to be a journalist, but is afraid to put in "the hard yards".

Bloggers, the Internet's newest style of news media websites, are known to contain their fair share of plagiarists.

Plagiarism has recently hit the mainstream in a big way, with the "gray lady"; The New York Times, being at the epicentre of the plagiarism universe.

The former New York Times journalist, Jayson Blair, an aspiring, young and talented journalist; made front-page news not only in New York, but indeed, around the world, but this time is was about him, and the ghastly crimes he had committed.

Blair's crimes included, but may not be limited to; plagiarism, falsifying diaries and documents, and plain old copying verbatim, of other people's work, without giving credit. He even went so far as to say he was actually in parts of Iraq when reporting on the war, when in reality, he was on his home turf in the good old USA.

Shortly after Blair's "demise", other New York Timers have moved on, including former Managing Editor, Gerald M. Boyd, and former Executive Editor, Howell Raines.

One may ask the question, "why do journalists copy others' work"? This is likely due to unrealistic deadlines put on them by stressed out editors, lack of imagination and original thought, lack of confidence, and lack of morals. It has long been regarded as the worst crime a journalist can commit.

The Riverfront Times ( proudly proclaimed on their website, leading with the headline; RFT Hires Disgraced NYT Pinocchio: "Jayson Blair may be persona non grata in New York, but he'll be right at home here". Upon examination of The Riverfront Times, it appears to be a website without any hardcopy newspaper, and contains a good amount of satire and "made up" stories.

RFT's editor, Tom Finkel boasts, "We were looking for a writer who can get unbelievable scoops, and when the New York Times busted Jayson, well, it was like some killer-tasting barbecue sauce fell out of the sky and landed right on our plate of ribs."

Even so, it doesn't make it clear that the story about hiring Blair is not true…unless they know something no one else does. At the time of writing, the RFT has not responded to e-mail queries from Mediaman, about the claims.

Perhaps some journalists and editors need to seriously consider going back to journalist school.

Then again, that may not be such a wise piece of advice nor the best cure.

If the journalism school is anything like Petersham TAFE in Sydney, Australia; the students who send their work to newspapers and news outlets with the view to getting published, may find that their work will be plagiarized, or "binned".

Petersham TAFE student, "James", recently wrote an article on an historical societies' issues with the local council, in Sydney's Hill's district. He called the local paper to "pitch" the idea, as part of a TAFE assignment. The editor said, "sorry, not very interested, but you can send over your ideas if you like". James asked, "can you give me some feedback on my work"? The editor didn't. Some 4 weeks later the article appeared in the very same newspaper, with a different headline, and a limited number of changes. James had clearly done the work.

In the same classroom, Greg wrote a series of articles on the crime-wave going through his local suburb of Maroubra. He e-mailed and telephoned the major and local newspapers and news outlets. A few days later his article was on page 5 of a major Sydney newspaper, in a slightly re-written format.

Greg and James's teacher says, "there is no bigger compliment than imitation". Perhaps so, but payment for ones efforts and credit to the author would be a nice gesture. The TAFE teacher also suggested that some of the TAFE journalism teachers were "very well connected" and "switched into the newspapers". One may draw ones own conclusions from that statement.

So, what tips can the "clean" journalist learn form this?

Keep copies of all your work, and extensive notes on who you make contact with, when and about what subject!

Like this article?

Perhaps to the extent that you may be tempted to "borrow" or "lift" a few of the ideas?

Don't bother, someone probably already has.

Published at:

History News Network


Links of relevance:

The Newcastle plagiarism scandal - NineMSN - Sunday 10th August 2003

The University of Newcastle


The Poynter Institute Online: The First Peril: Fabrication

Want My Story? Help Yourself!, by Ken Layne - Online Journalism Review

Plagiarism in the News