October 1, 2012

The Daily Collegian
Penn State’s student newspaper has suspended a writer who fabricated and plagiarized quotes by Sue Paterno in a story about the opening of a center on campus named for her. Paterno is the widow of former coach Joe Paterno, who died just months after being fired from the university for his role in Jerry Sandusky’s ongoing sexual abuse of young men.

Daily Collegian editor-in-chief Casey McDermott did not name the student in her note today, but the story she cites carries the byline of Nick Vassilakos. Poynter chose to include his name here to make it easier for others to review his work and to avoid implicating other Daily Collegian writers.

McDermott said that this was not the student’s first offense:

“On Sept. 18, a copy editor also discovered similarities between a sentence in an article written by the same student and a sentence in an outside article used as part of the student’s background research. When asked, the staff member said the similarities were an honest mistake stemming from a misunderstanding in proper attribution procedures.

“Still, as a precaution, that article was not published, and the staff writer was told that his previous work would be subject to a review for missing or incorrect attribution. The staff writer was asked to repeat a semester of reporter training, but he was permitted to remain on the staff under increased supervision.”

It is also not the paper’s first brush with plagiarism this year:

“In response to an incident of plagiarism discovered earlier in 2012, the Collegian instituted increased training for incoming staff members and editors. We will expand upon that training and evaluate what we can be doing better, as an institution, to make sure every staff member understands the fundamentals of journalism ethics.”

An editor’s note appears on the Paterno story and on the writer’s other stories.

Correction: This post originally stated that Joe Paterno resigned; he offered his retirement in November but was later fired by the university.

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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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