“Plagiarism” is hard to spell? It’s even harder to spell out

Even though the Ledger is not a platinum news organization, its plagiarism committee report opened the window for prospective journalists to reexamine this capital mistake that is very prone to happen.

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Jayson Blair(Jennifer Szymaszek/AP)

The Jayson Blair scandal was one of the most ominous plagiarism cases in this century. As the report illustrated, Mr. Blair pimped a quote from a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and presented it as a masterpiece written by him. His employer the New York Times, upon his resignation, composed an exhaustive article in an effort to inform its faithful readers who have been hoodwinked by Mr. Blair’s writings. The full rectification piece from the Times can be accessed here.

The Ledger’s report also scraped through a concept that I had barely known before. “A story may be so unique in its concept that re-creating it as if it were original may present ethical questions,” it reads. This exhortation shed another layer of light of some scratch cases of plagiarism practices that were not so blatantly known. In this interconnected information-based society, hardly any single news organization could gain an exclusive privilege to a news idea, but there are exceptions. Besides the one listed in the report, a recent New York Times article reminded me that occasionally a news subject itself could stand alone as a “patent”.

For example, a recent Times article detailed a ground-zero account of how the names of street corners in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, have evolved into a pop-culture concept and how it encapsulated the socio-economical struggles that Venezuelans endured living in the city. This article reflected a clairvoyant perspective of an international correspondent who has embedded in the local culture and his legerdemains to transfuse such knowledge into news reporting. In my viewpoint, if another news organization, say hypothetically, the Boston Globe publishes another piece documenting an extraordinary tie between the street corners in Caracas and the folklore cultures, the Globe could have stepped in a mine field of plagiarism, because the inspiration required for writing this profile piece resembles so much to an adoption of the one already on the market.

American journalism is the battlefield between creating unparalleled news angle and conscious or unconscious plagiarism in the pursuit of that angle. Being a starter of this scrupulous industry, I compiled a list of reminders to keep plagiarism in quarantine. First, never publish something you didn’t know without proper attributions. This overarching advice encompasses news ideas, news quotes and news “facts” only became known upon previous publication. Second, devote to the background information for a report, either quotes or researches, no matter how incredulous it sounds. One should never alter extraneous materials for a news piece without consulting the source or conducting further researches. Third, always use other published sources all but references. If one reporter pursued a fact himself, I should either leave it or build upon it but never graft it onto my own writing template.

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