Ethical Concerns about Journalists, Authors Accused of Plagiarizing

Q. The other day I read a story in a local paper that had a suspicious paragraph. I Googled it, and came upon the exact same wording on a Wikipedia page. Is that plagiarism if you don't attribute it? I say it is. Apparently, when I reported it to the editor, it was ignored.

I'm just looking for your thoughts on whether this is plagiarism, and on Wikipedia in general.


A. Plagiarism is presenting another's work as your own.

It is wrong. Every schoolchild knows this and so does every journalist. Journalists who claim someone else's work as their own risk their careers. It can be occupational suicide. Editors who ignore it can jeopardize their publication's credibility.

A book released this month is at the center of a plagiarism controversy. "Free: The Future of a Radical Price" by Wired magazine's Chris Anderson originally contained material from Wikipedia that was not attributed in the book.

In his blog, Anderson wrote, "As some of you may have seen, VQR rightly spotted that I failed to cite Wikipedia in some passages in 'Free.' This is entirely my own screwup, and will be corrected in the ebook and digital forms before publication (and in the notes, which will be posted online at the same time the hardcover is released), but I did want to explain a bit more how it happened and what we’re doing about it."

Recently, The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, the Black Eyed Peas, a college journalism student and Harry Potter author JK Rowling have all been accused of plagiarism.

One criticism of Wikipedia is that people can and have posted plagiarized material there, too, without attributing it to the sources or themselves.

A July 7 Newsweek article dealt with cryptomnesia, the idea that one can plagiarize by accident. 

Here are some related Poynter Online stories:

"The Global War on Plagiarism: Fighting the Pirates of the Press," by Roy Peter Clark

"Dowd Could Learn from the 'Retweet' Ethic, Giving Credit Where it's Due," by Kelly McBride

"The Plagiarism Trap: Is it Ethical to Shoot a Fly with a Bazooka?" by Roy Peter Clark

Coming: She is thinking of going to graduate school so she can teach college or get back into journalism, but wonders if a second J-degree would be worth it.

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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