On plagiarizing news

Posted 3.31.18

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | The Bulletin's discovery that one of its journalists has been plagiarizing material published in another newspaper, while very embarrassing, has an up-side, a lesson, as much for the reading public as for journalists everywhere.

It's important to state that the Bulletin, like all genuine newspapers, takes such professional transgressions with the utmost seriousness. The journalist has lost not only this job but the respected position held within our community. The Bulletin has acknowledged its failure to catch such actions, and the offended newspaper has followed the Bulletin's reaction with full agreement.

In the last several years, there have been similar cases involving much larger newspapers, and public opinion seems satisfied that the media's response has been swift, uncompromised, and principled. No semi-apologies, no mangled justifications, or unconvincing promises as we have been so surprised to see come out of the various investigations into social media sites in relation to the last US (at minimum) elections, for example.

And when our incomprehension of such manipulative actions has settled, it's worth looking a little deeper.

The swift and decisive response by this newspaper (and most of the other papers elsewhere) to any cases of plagiarization should be reassuring, not discouraging, to readers. This shows the difference between traditional, professional media and the post-it notes we find on so much social media and which passes itself off as a cost-free alternative to "old fashioned" media. Each case demonstrates that there is a cost for real journalism, and to believe you're getting it free is, simply, self-delusion.

First, it's a fact that real journalism (as opposed to purchased or commissioned "news") is costly to produce. With today's pressures on media, journalists find themselves stretched to the limit. It shows that journalism is a profession, rarely something anyone with a digital megaphone can produce. This might explain some plagiarism -- journalists stretched to the breaking point, working under repeated deadlines, may feel themselves forced to grab whatever they can to met their deadlines. Likewise with copy-editors who review the texts, and editors who are responsible in the end for the final product. Today, everyone in a news room is under multiple pressures -- all trying to satisfy their readers. These pressures don't justify unprofessionalism but they do explain a little of it.

The point here is that plagiarisms in professional media (newspapers, historically) do get found out. The multiple edits, reviews and fact-checking that articles undergo in newspapers have their purpose, and the free blogged, no-checked e-news does have big costs!

What is the "free" news so many of us insist of using -- where are the multiple edits, reviews, and fact-checking?  Free-style, hot-dogging journalism saves the expense of training, apprenticeships, and then the checking and multiple edits.  "Just say it!" and say it with as much drama as possible -- presto, you've got readership. That seems the approach of much of what we find on our screens. And, yup, that stuff is free. I guess so; who'd ever pay for it?


Copyright © 2018 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/3.18