After Summer of Sin, ACES, SPJ presidents commit to plagiarism summit

After reading my recent account of plagiarism and fabrication the last several months, which I dubbed the “Summer of Sin,” Teresa Schmedding said she realized something needs to be done.

“I was aware of the individual cases, but the inexcusable pervasiveness of it struck me when I read them summarized in your column,” she said in an email this week. “Even worse is that these are the cases we know about; it gives me the chills to think how many are never caught.”

Schmedding is president of the American Copy Editors Society. I suggested in my piece that journalism organizations and associations such as ACES come together and set guidelines for news organizations about what constitutes plagiarism and fabrication, and how an incident should be investigated and communicated.

Schmedding left a comment on my post and also got in touch directly to say she’d emailed the presidents of the SPJ, ASNE and APME to invite them to come together to set “best practices for newsrooms in dealing with and preventing fabrication and plagiarism.” She proposed they do so at a “plagiarism/fabrication summit” being held as part of the ACES national conference next April. (I spoke at the ACES conference earlier  this year, and received no compensation other than a pass to the event. Poynter paid for my travel.)

Schmedding said that former New York Times editor William Connolly has agreed to work on the project.

“I’d like to see our organizations, working professionals and academic leaders collaborate on how we can train, educate and advocate to put an end to the problem,” she said.

Schmedding quickly heard back from current SPJ President John Ensslin and President-Elect Sonny Albarado. They voiced support for the idea, and also pointed to the SPJ ethics committee’s recent position paper on plagiarism.

“I support Teresa’s idea of hosting a plagiarism summit among the major journalism groups and will designate someone from SPJ to represent us,” Albarado told me.

It’s encouraging to see leaders not only stepping up with concrete plans, but also showing a willingness to work together. I hope other organizations join with SPJ and ACES for the summit. Schmedding has also asked me to take part, which I’m happy to do. (Poynter will offer other assistance as possible.)

“In journalism we live in a world of gray: Was this objective? Is this lede clear? Is this headline confusing?” she said. “What should never be gray is that plagiarism and fabrication is wrong.”

I’ll update with information about the summit as more details emerge. If other associations, organizations or interested individuals want to take part, Schmedding can be reached at tschmedding [at]

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Philip Eagle

    I know you’ve been busy with this series of posts, but might I suggest some coverage of the Sun’s and Kelvin McKenzie’s apologies over the reporting of the Hillsborough disaster?

  • Teresa Schmedding

    Looking forward to working with you on this!

  • CraigSilverman

    Thanks, Roy. A good suggestion. I hope you join us on the mountain top in April!

  • Roy Peter Clark

    I love summit meetings. Bring the right folks to the mountain top, and everyone begins to see beyond the horizon. I had one modest suggestion about framing and naming the event. I would not go with “Fabrication and Plagiarism Summit” or “Summer of Sin Summit,” nothing that sounds or feels Inquisitional. How about the “Honest Writer Summit.” In other words, give it a Green Light rather than a Red Light quality. What would come out of such a meeting, perhaps, is a toolbox — the Tools of Originality.