Saturday, November 15, 2003

Why Do I Have To Explain This?

Just take a peek at Romenesko.

Plagiarism stories are everywhere. Reporters of papers large and small can be heard crying, "I had my notes mixed up. I forgot it was someone elseÂ’s work."

Shame on them. Shame on us.

Why do people dislike and distrust the media? Could it be because we expect exemplary behavior from our civic leaders yet employ and elevate folks who cut and paste the words of others? Just a thought.

Copy editors see plagiarism more than readers do. We sometimes catch it and rectify it. (Piece of advice: If the phrase seems too good to be true, do a Google search with it.) But we canÂ’t be counted on all the time, of course. No one can.

Cheaters make their way through. And we deal with thconsequenceses. Newsroom leaders can fire people. They can publish notes to the readers. But trust has been damaged.

Look. Why do we do journalism?

To tell the truth.

How can we tell the truth if the stories we print are ripped off from someone else? How can anyone toss in a paragraph from another source and feel right about it? Who are these people? Why did they ever consider journalism a career?

Harsh, yes. The media community, after all, tends to reserve its angriest judgments for those who manufacture quotes wholesale. These folks, it is argued, strike at the callingÂ’s very core. True, I suppose. Stephen Glass and his ilk did high-profile damage to the industry.

But these sociopaths don't pop up often. The garden-variety plagiarist infests more newspapers than we care to know. Every time another reader (or editor) catches a reporter spinning off words not her own, we must ask: Do we expect enough of ourselves?

Clearly not.