View Mobile Site

Text Size: Smaller Larger Normal

The kidnapping of our work

POSTED July 21, 2009 11:25 p.m.
Plagiarizing, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is to “steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source.”
The concept of plagiarism is not hard to understand. When elementary school students are given their very first essay assignment they are taught to do their own work and cite their sources. I clearly remember my fourth grade teacher telling my class that copying information out of the dictionary is stealing.
Most adults are well aware of plagiarism and have enough integrity to want to do their own work. Poynter Institute Senior Scholar Roy Clark wrote in his 2004 article, “The Global War on Plagiarism: Fighting the Pirates of the Press,” that plagiarism has its own “peculiar characteristics” and patterns. His first two points are: 1.) Almost all cases of serious plagiarism are intentional; and 2.) Serious plagiarism by adults is a moral flaw, not an ethical one.
This makes sense. How can someone accidentally steal a person’s work? Either you do the work yourself or you don’t. And stealing is definitely a moral issue — principals of right and wrong — as opposed to an ethical one, which is more related to standards of behavior.
Being in the newspaper business, I am acutely aware of plagiarism. Ever since New York Times reporter Jayson Blair tried to single-handedly ruin the reputation of the most prestigious newspaper in the business, plagiarism has been the 800-pound gorilla in most American newsrooms. In 2003, The New York Times reported that Blair was found to have plagiarized, reported inaccurately, or out-right made up 36 of the 73 stories he wrote in the two years that he was on staff at the paper.
But plagiarism doesn’t have to happen at The New York Times for it to be wrong.
Every day the reporters at the Journal are working hard to cover local news, events and features to the best of their abilities. They spend hours on the phone and in the community verifying facts and checking sources. While we are a small newspaper with limited resources, there are times when one of our reporters digs a little deeper to get the information readers really want to know about a breaking story.
This was the case last week with Sabra Stafford’s story, “Red Steer co-owner arrested for arson.”
Sabra spent the extra time and effort going through search warrants and police reports, talking to police investigators and the district attorney’s office to give readers the most in-depth information available.
So it was surprising to read that exact same information on turlockcitynews.com.
In the Journal’s story, five debts owed by the Red Steer or its co-owner, Tracy Smith are listed. Sabra picked only five of the many debts listed in the search warrant served on Smith as an example. It is amazing to me that turlockcitynews.com also happened to pick those same five examples to give. There are other facts that were obtained by the Journal that also mysteriously appear in the turlockcitynews.com story.
This is not the first time a Web site has stolen information from the Journal and it probably won’t be the last. But people need to know that stealing is wrong.
This is one of the reasons that traditional news media needs to survive and thrive again. Even though Blair was able to get away with journalistic fraud for over two years, he was eventually caught, stopped and steps were taken to make amends for the wrongs he caused. A news organization depends on its reputation for credibility; even though mistakes can be and are made, integrity can also be restored.
Independent Web sites, on the other hand, do not have the same tradition of being democratic institutions with responsibilities to the public.
Freedom of speech is paramount to a free society, but the taking of others’ work is not freedom. It is thievery.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

Most Popular Articles

Commenting is not available.

Share on Facebook Bookmark and Share
Commenting not available.

Please wait ...