Attribution and plagiarism: The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists revisits the controversy over Fareed Zakaria’s reports. A study in plagiarism and attribution. From the archives.
Attribution and plagiarism: In the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives, Stephen Rynkiewicz compares Renaissance artists with modern journalists.
“If the rules on fair play are shifting, the Renaissance atelier may be where to look for direction,” he writes.
“When they knew enough to transform their material, apprentices became journeymen and started their own studios. When journalists bring craft and intelligence to their work, they too become artists,” he writes.
By Casey Bukro
NewsGuard Technologies is recruiting veteran journalists to fight fake news by color-coding 7,500 news and information websites and video channels in the United States green, yellow and red.
A red rating goes to purveyors of consistently and intentionally false information or propaganda.
Now in the process of recruiting and training qualified journalists to be NewsGuard analysts, the enterprise, based in New York and Chicago, will begin operating in time for the mid-term elections in November.
The 7,500 news sources targeted account for 98 percent of the news articles read and shared in the English language online in the United States. After launching in the U.S., NewsGuard will expand to serve billions of people globally who get news online.
“Our goal is to help solve this (fake news) problem now by using human beings – trained, experienced journalists – who will operate under a transparent, accountable process to apply basic common sense to a growing scourge that clearly cannot be solved by algorithms,” said co-founder Steven Brill, longtime journalist and media entrepreneur.
The founders raised $6 million to launch NewsGuard.
In addition to color-coding websites or online publications, NewsGuard plans to issue Nutrition Labels that will explain the history of the site, what it attempts to cover, who owns it and who edits it. The labels also will reveal financing, notable awards or mistakes, whether the publisher upholds transparency standards or repeatedly is found at fault.
Two NewsGuard analysts will independently review and rate each site or online publication. One will draft the Nutrition Label and the other will edit it. The public can access these reviews to see why publishers got the green, yellow or red ratings.
Any disagreement between the two analysts is resolved by NewGuard’s senior editorial officers, including Brill, cofounder Gordon Crovitz, former Wall Street Journal publisher, James Warren, former Chicago Tribune managing editor and Eric Effron, former Legal Times editor and publisher.
Warren is NewsGuard’s executive editor and Effron is managing editor.
The lead investor in NewsGuard, among 18 investors, is Publicis Groupe, based in Paris. It is a French multinational advertising and public relations company, and the oldest and one of the largest marketing and communications companies in the world, by revenue.
By Casey Bukro
Politicians are a notoriously slippery tribe. Almost by definition they are seen as shifty and two-faced. A 2013 poll found Congress less popular than cockroaches and traffic jams.
So what explains the umbrage over Melania Trump’s warmup speech at the Republican National Convention, extolling Trump family values and virtues of her husband, Donald, the Republican nominee for president?
“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect,” said Trump to warm applause.
By the next day, political writers were pointing out that passage and others were almost exactly what First Lady Michelle Obama said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
“Plagiarism,” declared David Brooks, New York Times political columnist, during PBS-National Public Radio convention coverage. Others called it a “ripoff” or more politely “borrowing” or “cribbing.”
Continue reading Melania Trump ‘Plagiarism’: Cribbing From Michelle Obama
Q: Did you hear about the new “divorced” Barbie doll in stores now?
A: It comes with all of Ken’s stuff.<
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TWEET OF THE DAY
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From Chicago’s Laugh Factory
By Casey Bukro
A funny thing happened on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight show: they were talking about ethics in comedy and joke stealing.
It’s no laughing matter when comics steal jokes from other comedians. How can you stop it?
The Chicago Tonight program was prompted by a lawsuit filed by Alex Kaseberg, a Winnetka freelance comedy writer, who accuses television talk show host Conan O’Brien of stealing his jokes.
“Plagiarism is a huge deal in journalism,” said Phil Ponce, the moderator. “It’s a career-ender. Why is it not a career-ender in comedy?”
Nobody on the panel of comedy experts laughed.
“There’s a history of joke-stealing” that goes back to vaudeville, answered Anne Libera, director of comedy studies at Columbia College Chicago. Performers sometimes stood backstage and took notes so they could tell the stolen jokes later.
It’s not easy to prove when a joke is stolen, said comedian Dwayne Kennedy. People accuse others of joke-stealing all the time, he said, but “the topic is so broad,” it’s hard to prove.
By Casey Bukro
Journalism student Emily Bloch thought she saw something familiar while reading a story in the Boca Raton Tribune. It looked like something she had written, exactly the way she had written it.
Turned out it was a case of plagiarism, for which the Tribune writer was fired. He had copied material Bloch had written for the Florida Atlantic University student newspaper, the University Press, about an alleged campus rape.
Students sometimes are accused of copying material written by professional journalists, but in this case the professional journalist copied material written by a student. The case was reported by New Times Broward-Palm Beach.
Plagiarism often is a career-killing offense in journalism, although not always.
A Columbia Journalism Review report found that punishment for plagiarism falls in an grey area “ranging from severe to virtually nothing even for major offenses.”
It’s an editor’s decision, one that takes a writer’s talents and past performance into consideration. In other words, how badly does an editor need that writer or how easily could that writer be replaced? And, it is no secret that editors sometimes have favorites, known among staffers as “friends of the editor’s” or FOEs.
Editors might look for a pattern of plagiarism before taking disciplinary steps.
In these days of the Internet, much is made of the ease with which text can be stolen or copied and pasted. Cut-and-paste is a dangerous practice. The only good case for it is for citing a direct quote accurately. It is commonly used in the drafting stage, but a writer might forget to recast the material.
Equally easy is finding online plagiarism checkers, or reports that list the latest examples of plagiarism, or plagiarism “hit lists” of famous journalists gone wrong. Where are they now? For the most part, out of journalism.
At The New York Times a reporter, Jayson Blair, lost his job for plagiarism, and another, Maureen Dowd, didn’t.
They were named in a Plagiarism Today report by Jonathan Bailey called “5 Famous Plagiarists: Where Are They Now?”
The so-called “celebrity plagiarists,” for the most part, “seemed to land on their feet,” according to Bailey.
In its report on top 10 cases of plagiarism and attribution, Media Ethics in 2012 named Jonah Lehrer, formerly of The New Yorker, as its No. 1 plagiarist for plagiarizing himself.
“We’re putting him on our top plagiarist list since being busted for self-plagiarism led to his downfall,” said writer Sydney Smith. How do you plagiarize yourself, you might ask?
Lehrer’s blogs duplicated content he previously published for other outlets. He also made up quotes attributed to Bob Dylan.
The Poynter Institute also published a roundup of plagiarism and fabrication cases, by Mallary Jean Tenore, showing “the range of actions news organizations have taken and some of the factors they’ve considered when making these decisions.”
Plagiarism is a slippery slope. One might argue that plagiarism could be committed by accident. But the profiles of serial plagiarists show that it’s usually not a one-time mistake. It’s a choice.
In most cases, it becomes a pattern or a bad habit, perhaps because it seems so easy. And because some get away with it for some time, they might think they can get away with it indefinitely.
It’s an illusion. One of the benefits of the Internet are the millions of eyes on our words, including print editions. Many people are voracious readers of news reports, foreign and domestic. They recognize when identical paragraphs appear in two or more publications, and don’t hesitate telling editors.
A reader once notified the Chicago Tribune that one of its stories bore an uncanny resemblance to a story in the Jerusalem Post. An investigation proved that he was right. A Tribune reporter had taken text from the Post, a publication half a world away from Chicago.
Astute readers are unpaid “copy cops,” and anyone who works for a publication knows what I mean. They are really good at catching errors, among other things, and enjoy playing “gotcha.”
I think it’s fair to say the industry standard is zero tolerance for plagiarism. Penalties can be harsh even for a single infraction.
The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics flatly says: “Never plagiarize. Always attribute.”
I suppose I fall into the zero tolerance camp for plagiarism, because zero means zero. Otherwise, journalists can argue over how much is allowed and how much is not.
My intolerance dates from my earliest days of writing the 1973 version of the SPJ code of ethics. Some ethics committee members argued for a little of this, and a little of that. It was hard to define how much is a little, or too much.
So I decided that it’s best to draw a bright line. No means no, and there is no quibble room to haggle over.
Journalists are terrible hagglers and nit-pickers. The result is a long, drawn-out process that sometimes does not reach a conclusion or a consensus. Get a room full of journalists and they will argue over all the possibilities and change the punctuation. There is a point at which that is not productive. Best to draw bright lines.
Plagiarism is theft. It can’t be allowed.
Fareed Zakaria (Getty photo)
By Casey Bukro
Fareed Zakaria finds himself the target of anonymous bloggers who accuse him of plagiarism.
Zakaria says he is not a plagiarist, but media carrying his columns on international affairs — Newsweek, The Washington Post and Politico — have posted corrections or editor’s notes advising readers that Zakaria had not sufficiently attributed sources for material in some of his columns.
Now take a step back for a minute to ponder how the case underscores differences in the way journalism works now, compared with just a few years ago.
In the past, even a whiff of plagiarism was a firing offense. The hammer came down hard in most cases. Mike Barnicle was fired from the Boston Globe for plagiarism. Jayson Blair was booted from the New York Times for similar offenses, plagiarism and fabrication.
And some editors in the past would dismiss information from anonymous sources as lacking credibility unless identity and motivation were known.
In the Zakaria case, the sources are bloggers known only as BlippoBlappo and CrushingBort who consider themselves plagiarism watchdogs at Our Bad Media. They cited 50 examples of what they considered insufficient attribution in Zakaria’s columns. They describe themselves as two young men who are not journalists.
Zakaria also appears on CNN in a program focusing on international affairs. He is widely respected and seen or read on multiple platforms. And that’s part of the problem, say the anonymous plagiarism sleuths. They say Zakaria is treated with a deference that is not shown to minor league journalists. He continues to write columns for media that attached warnings to some of his past columns.
Maybe that makes what he did correctable or excusable. Another new slant on journalism as it is done today, when the focus is more on finance and new business models. And maybe some editors believe lack of attribution is not plagiarism.
The Columbia Journalism Review points out that “outcry within the journalistic community, meanwhile, has been unexpectedly mute, with many discussions focused on the semantic question of whether Zakaria’s mistakes constitute what some news organizations consider an unforgivable sin.”
Zakaria admitted to a “mistake” in 2012, but said that for the most part he uses information that is generally or widely known.
In tweaking its code of ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists this year added “always attribute” to a long-time admonition to “never plagiarize.”
National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel began a segment on Zakaria by pointing out that The Washington Post was the fifth news organization to say “that work it has published by Zakaria appears to have attribution problems.”
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik said the anonymous bloggers argue that “he’s done so much lifting unattributed characterizations of other people’s reporting that it amounts to plagiarism.”
Folkenflik went on to say that other critics insist Zakaria “is getting away with stuff that others wouldn’t be allowed to do who are more junior, who don’t have the brand-name recognition that he does…”
Dylan Byers of Politico.Com also outlined the campaign waged by the anonymous “plagiarism detectives,” and reported that Zakaria, in an email to Politico, argued “that he simply cited the same facts as others, which did not constitute plagiarism.”
Others say it’s a troubling pattern.
Writer Lloyd Grove wondered if Zakaria can survive the firestorm.
CNN, however, said it stands by Zakaria.
When New York Times critic Carol Vogel previewed an artist’s retrospective, readers were quick to question her report.
By Stephen Rynkiewicz
Renaissance artists might have struggled with the idea of plagiarism. Florentine salons respected tradition and uniformity, and apprentices in Piero di Cosimo’s studio learned by imitating the master. National Gallery of Art curator Gretchen Hirschauer told New York Times critic Carol Vogel that Piero’s work entered American collections partly by accident. It was attributed to other artists.
But the concept of plagiarism has evolved. When Vogel previewed Hirschauer’s retrospective of Piero’s work, a few readers were quick to question her report. It started with a list of Piero’s peculiarities, citing contemporary Giorgio Vasari, who’s still studied in paperback. But the wording was close to an even more common source, Wikipedia. The print passage is shortened online, and ombudsman Margaret Sullivan suggests Times editors might take further steps if a pattern emerges.
The word plagiarism first appears during the Reformation. The Random House Dictionary defines it as “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.” Universities have moved beyond the Renaissance academy, with rules against copying and paraphrasing. The Society of Professional Journalists ethics code simply says, “Never plagiarize.”
Yet the practice continues. Evidence of plagiarism in Sen. John Walsh’s Army War College research puts him under pressure to withdraw from the November election. Repeated instances on the website BuzzFeed got a producer fired last month. And delegates to SPJ’s 2014 convention will consider adding another ethics directive: “Always attribute.“
By Casey Bukro
Jayson Blair lied, plagiarized and fabricated stories, shaming the New York Times where he worked.
Why would he do that, knowing that the eyes of the world were focused on one of the world’s great newspapers?
Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, seemly comes as close as anyone to an answer in a recent column — Blair simply believed he’d never get caught.
It’s a myth, says Blair, that fear of being caught keeps people from doing unethical things. After getting away with it, “once you cross that barrier where you know the chances are you won’t be caught, it becomes very hard to discipline yourself,” Pitts quotes Blair.
It’s a fantasy. And that could be part of the answer.
Anyone in journalism who believes nobody really pays attention to accuracy and fairness is delusional. The American Journalism Review, in writing about Blair, pointed to other journalists who met their downfalls through dishonesty. It’s usually a matter of time before the distortions that lying create are noticed.
Blair did leave a legacy of sorts. Some journalists contend media are more concerned about fact-checking now. Maybe.
Recently, films and television broadcasts focused on Blair.
“A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and Jayson Blair at the New York Times” is a 75-minute documentary.
Blair had a record of poor work habits at the New York Times, which should have raised red flags before it was too late to prevent what has been described as “one of the most notorious scandals in the history of American journalism.” Some heads rolled.
Now out of journalism, Blair is described as a “life coach.”
This season of Blair mania comes while several journalism organizations are writing or rewriting codes of ethics, such as the Society of Professional Journalists. Such documents usually list activities that journalists should or should not do.
But rarely do they mention consequences for people like Jayson Blair, who believe there are no consequences for lying, cheating and stealing. They just cross the barrier and set the stage for another scandal.