By Christopher B. Daly
Jeez, I hope that headline’s original. (I have this haunting feeling that it seems familiar — I better google myself to make sure. Phew. No direct hits. Now, where was I?)
Amidst this recent outbreak of plagiarism charges (the Montana senator, the Times arts writer, some guy at BuzzFeed, and others), it’s worth reviewing what plagiarism is and why it plagues us.
Plagiarism is at once easier to do and easier to catch. Thanks to computers and the internet, it’s very easy to copy things — even things that a journalist, a speechwriter, or any other sincere person intends to use as source material or as quoted matter. On the other hand, thanks to those same computers and the internet, it’s also very easy to catch someone who plagiarizes — whether deliberately or inadvertently.
That’s why I welcome today’s comment by Margaret Sullivan, the NYTimes‘ public editor. Here’s the nub of her (presumably original) comment:
Write your own stuff; when you can’t or won’t, make sure you attribute and link.
Use multiple sources; compare, contrast, verify.
That could go up on the walls of every classroom at Boston University, where I teach basic reporting classes in our Journalism program. In fact, I may do just that this fall — with proper attribution, of course.
Personally, I think the heart of the matter is in those first four words: WRITE YOUR OWN STUFF. If you are any kind of a writer who cares about words, you will know instantly whether a phrase or sentence or paragraph in some chunk of prose that has your name at the top was written by you or by somebody else. If you didn’t write it, give credit where it’s due. Any questions?
2 responses to “Plagiarism is back (Did it ever really go away?)”
Well said. And given how unreliable Wikipedia entries are, it is scary that a Times reporter would rely on them period.
Also, is plagiarism on the rise because a generation which grew up thinking it was ok to make illegal copies of songs, movies, games, etc does not see plagiarism as wrong?