Are editors too lax when it comes to plagiarism?

There have been several instances of plagiarism this year involving journalists from news organizations such as The Washington PostThe Denver Post, The Village Voice, The Kansas City Star, ESPN and, most recently, Politico.

The sanctions for journalists who plagiarize and fabricate vary. Some journalists are fired. Some are asked to take a leave of absence. Others are given second chances. It’s hard to say whether news organizations have relaxed sanctions in recent years, but it’s safe to say that many journalists who were caught plagiarizing have gotten back into the business.

Reuters’ Jack Shafer says editors are partly to blame for not setting higher standards. Editors, he said, “have to have a heart of leather” and not make excuses for plagiarism.

So, are editors too lax when it comes to handling plagiarism? How should they handle these offenses? And how can they ultimately help prevent repeat offenses?

Shafer addressed these questions in a live chat, which you can replay here:

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  • p. dangelo

    It’s sad to hear of such blatent news lifting and pandering. Sounds like the gatekeeper needs a gatekeeper. Have you tried to Tweet them out by posting links from their site to your orginial story and using hashtags to help connect them?

    Great link!  I’ll keep Eliot in mind next time plagiarism comes up. Should students (the immature) who are only imitating be punished less than their adult (mature) counterparts who steal?

  • James Miller (EA Worldview)

    I didn’t know that story about Dylan. Thanks for linking. There again, there is a world of difference between building on someone else’s art, or referencing a thought or work from someone else, and passing it off as your own. 

    If I picked up a book and quoted from it, or used information I found in it, it would not be acceptable for me to give no reference of where I got the information. Journalists are particularly vulnerable because they do not actually MAKE the news, they report on the news, so news agencies think they can just skip the middle man and report what happened without reporting where they got the information from. I’ve even had major news organizations ask me to forward my sources so that they would not need to quote me at all. How dishonest is that? How am I supposed to compete if all these big organizations just take my information?

    Back to Dylan, and kind of as an aside, an interesting debate on the subject can be found surrounding the no-entirely accurate T.S. Eliot quote, “Good poets borrow, great poets steal.”

  • p. dangelo

    As a journalist and educator I believe eliminating plagiarism begins in the classroom. It is there that students learn just how offensive an act it is. Unfortunately, when it comes to the hammer, it may be that universities are not all that willing to enforce their own policies.Apparently, neither is society as we heard this week about Bob Dylan’s repeat practices that are documented yet forgiven
    For me, I go to Mencher: “It is immoral not to be excellent in your craft.”


  • James Miller (EA Worldview)

    As a journalist, an editor for a small news agency that covers the Middle East, I can promise you that plagiarism is rampant at the highest levels. Big agencies believe it is ok to republish information that they find on small websites, and then claim they found the information on its own. We’ve even had instances when we send a news tip to journalists whom we know (say, a link to our website that had embedded an important video that no other agency has run yet) and they feel it is ok to take the video and not cite us as the source.

    Also, in the 21st century, no news agencies know how to hyperlink. I find them summarizing a “Reuters” or “AP” story all the time, and then when I find the original story it says something different than their summary. That could be more excusable if they could just find that “link” button on their editor.