Journalistic plagiarism is out of control

Plagiarism is not a new phenomenon in the media, but it has run rampant on the back of news websites and ‘blogs’…

Have you read this article before? If you do a considerable amount of reading, you quite likely have!
It seems everybody wants to be a journalist, but most are afraid to put in the hard yards.

Blogs, the news and opinion websites created by independent individuals, are known to contain their fair share of plagiarists.

Plagiarism hit the mainstream in a big way in May 2003, with the ‘Gray Lady’ the New York Times finding itself at the epicentre of the plagiarism universe.

One of its journalists, Jayson Blair - aspiring, young and talented - made front-page news around the world, but this time it was about him, and the ghastly crimes he had committed.

Blair's misdemeanours 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 reporting on the war, when in reality, he was on home turf in the good old USA.

Shortly after Blair's ‘demise’, other New York Timers moved on, including former managing editor, Gerald M Boyd, and former executive editor, Howell Raines.

You may ask: "Why do journalists copy others' work"?

It is most 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.

Missouri's alternative newsweekly Riverfront Times proudly proclaimed the headline: 'RFT Hires Disgraced NYT Pinocchio' soon afterwards.

"Jayson Blair may be persona non grata in New York, but he'll be right at home here," its editorial said.

The Riverfront Times contains a good amount of satirical stories itself.

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. The RFT did not respond to queries about the claims.

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

But not if their journalism schools are anything like Petersham TAFE in Sydney. There, students who send their work to regional newspapers and news outlets with a view to getting themselves published may find their work being plagiarised.

One Petersham TAFE student wrote an article on a historical society issue involving the local council in Sydney's Hill's district.

When 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".

The student asked, "Can you give me some feedback on my work?”

The editor didn't.

Some four weeks later an edited version of his article appeared in the very same newspaper, with a different headline.

The student had clearly done the groundwork.

Another Petersham student wrote a series of articles on a crime wave affecting his local suburb of Maroubra. He e-mailed and telephoned the major and local newspapers and news outlets offering them to him. A few days later his article was on page five of a major Sydney newspaper, in a slightly re-written format.

The students’ teacher attempted to reassure him by saying: "There is no bigger compliment than imitation".

Perhaps so, but payment for one's 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 … to newspapers".

What tips can a journalist learn from this? Keep copies of all your work, and extensive notes on who you make contact with, when and about what subject.