October was worst month this year for plagiarism, fabrication

What the heck happened in October?

That’s what I found myself wondering after I looked back at the year in plagiarism and fabrication. October stands out for its nine incidents — three times more than any other month in 2011. I have no explanation for this fact, especially since the October incidents are relatively diverse, coming from magazines, newspapers, wire services and the student press. There was even a case of visual plagiarism.

But it made me wonder: Is October always the worst month? I decided to look back and chart the numbers from previous year-end plagiarism/fabrication round-ups. Here’s what I came up with (click for larger image):


You can also view the data in a spreadsheet.

Bottom line: there doesn’t appear to be a trend in terms of which month is the worst for plagiarism/fabrication. But there are a few things worth noting:

  • Each year there is at least one month without any kind of incident. But the majority of months have something of note.
  • This past October, with its nine incidents, is the worst month on record since I began collecting data in 2005. The second worst month is March of 2008, with six incidents, followed by February 2008 and July 2009, which each had five.
  • 2006 is the worst year for plagiarism/fabrication since I began collecting data. There were 27 incidents that year. 2007 and 2008 each had 24 incidents. The best year thus far was 2010, with only 10 incidents. This past year had 21 incidents, making it the fourth worst year.

Remember: Though I try to be comprehensive, I undoubtedly miss some items. And, of course, it’s impossible to know how many incidents of plagiarism and fabrication go unreported every year. That’s the scariest data of all: the ones we don’t know about, the ones that have been successfully hidden from readers and viewers and listeners.

So: do you know of any incidents I missed, especially from this year? Email me so I can add them, and make any necessary recalculations.

As for this year’s round-up, some of you may notice there’s one particular item that’s not listed. It’s the attribution-related dustup that occurred in November between Poynter and Jim Romenesko. I’m not listing it as an item in this year’s round-up because, quite simply, it wasn’t a matter of plagiarism. I think it would be inaccurate and unfair to include it below.

January

Village Voice freelancer Rob Sgobbo was busted for inventing at least two characters in a story for the paper. This also led the New York Daily News to end its relationship with Sgobbo, and for the Huffington Post to remove his work from its site.

ESPN anchor Will Selva plagiarized from a column written by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

February

None!

March

The Washington Post admitted that two of its articles about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords included plagiarized material. Both stories stole from The Arizona Republic. Reporter Sari Horwitz received a three-month suspension for the theft.

April

A travel article in the Washington Post by freelancer Robert Rigney included material taken from a documentary film, “Absolut Warhola.” The paper published an editor’s note to explain the thefts, and it noted that, “while the article appeared to be based on a single trip, in fact it was based on several journeys, including one 10 years ago.”

May

None!

June

Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige apologized for using and not attributing quotes gathered by SportsBusiness Journal.

Globe And Mail columnist Margaret Wente came under scrutiny for multiple failures of attribution. The paper issued one correction, noting that one of her columns included unattributed work from the New York Times.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Paige Wiser was fired after she wrote a concert review that described events she was not present for. (She cited a song that wasn’t performed, and listed another that she didn’t see.)

July

None!

August

In an incident that needs to be watched to be believed, New Zealand broadcaster TVNZ was busted for a word-for-word, shot-for-shot rip-off of an ABC News report.

September

The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia discovered it had a plagiarist on staff. The offender, who was not named, was reported to the school’s Honor Committee. In a puzzling turn of events, the paper then found itself in trouble with that same Committee. Chairwoman Ann Marie McKenzie alleged the Daily’s piece about the plagiarism violated the University’s Standards of Conduct. Fortunately, the charges were later dismissed.

Johann Hari, a prominent columnist with The Independent, announced he was taking leave from the paper after being busted for repeated acts of plagiarism, not to mention “sock puppetry.” He is due to return from his leave in 2012.

Architecture site ArchDaily admitted that sections of a post “failed to properly credit” the work of a writer for Architecture Record.

October

The Financial Mail of South Africa reported that one of its articles included unattributed sections from a Bloomberg Businessweek article, “Saving the rhino through sacrifice.” The Mail said the material was inserted by associate editor Sharda Naidoo, and that she subsequently “left the employ of the FM”.

The Irish Examiner suspended international affairs columnist Steven King after it discovered he lifted words from media outlets including Spiked, Salon.com and Commentary Magazine. Notably, the editor of the Examiner also announced the suspension on Twitter.

Politico reporter Kendra Marr resigned after being confronted with evidence that she repeatedly plagiarized from other news organizations. Politico explained the details in an editor’s note, but did not use the word plagiarism. Top editors also refused all media requests about the incident.

Writers for Examiner.com were busted for stealing material from the Cops and Courts blog.

A staff columnist for the Technician, the student paper at North Carolina State University, was fired after it was discovered he plagiarized 10 columns he contributed to the paper. The paper did not name the offender.

Urban Tulsa Weekly cartoonist David Simpson was busted for repeatedly plagiarizing the work of other artists. He resigned in early November.

Reuters withdrew an article after it was revealed to have many unattributed similarities to a piece published by The Guardian on the same subject. It’s unknown if the writer faced discipline.

The Middletown Press fired a writer for plagiarizing from Middletown Patch. A review of previous work by the reporter, Walt Gogolya, “uncovered similar issues,” according to an editor’s note about the incident.

Columbia Journalism Review made a lengthy, compelling case that California’s Reader Magazine is a publication that consists primarily, if not entirely, of plagiarized work.

November

None!

December

The Columbus Dispatch suspended cartoonist Jeff Stahler after discovering that some of his work bore similarity to cartoons in The New Yorker. Stahler later resigned.

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  • Anonymous

    Not ‘exactly’ plagiarism. You have to go to the trouble to find the interviewees and get them to confirm what they told the author of the original story. Not the most dignified form of journalism. But I’ve actually been asked to scalp a story that the competition had scalped from me.

  • Anonymous

    What then of the honoured newspaper tradition of “scalping” other’s stories?