Fact, Fiction or Fabrication

A prevalent issue within journalism today is the falsity of both sources and information, a form of plagiarism which is by no means new. However, the growth and recognition of this form of plagiarism can largely be attributed to the rapid developments in technology as well as the increasing use of online outlets for reporting.

Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter allow for the expedient spread of information–information which is not necessarily true. These outlets don’t always guarantee that someone is who they claim to be and can serve as major proponents of false quotations, causing news organizations and individuals who do not perform sound fact/source checks to use tweets and Facebook statuses as information for a story. A prime example of this was the serge of Facebook statuses following the Sandy Hook school shooting sharing a message supposedly from Morgan Freeman.

This situation shows that the attribution associated with a quote requires a source check more than ever before, as the true source of a falsification can get lost in the millions of likes, shares and retweets it gets. The expedience of both the sharing of a quotation as well as the debunking of such is astounding. Technology may have been behind the spread of this particular fabrication, but it is also how so many people (in this case it was the camp of Morgan Freeman) are able to denounce quotations and stories which are plagiarized.

“If a news outlet doesn’t have credibility it doesn’t matter what else it has.” -Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson), HBO’s The Newsroom

Though this example of falsification appeared to be strictly accidental by most of those who shared the quote, there are many cases in which the intent behind false information or quote attribution can’t always be confirmed as innocent. I have made a point to follow a story regarding the school newspaper at the University of Alabama where The Crimson White, as the paper is called, has recently been accused of fabricating quotes.

The plagiarism committed by staff at The Crimson White has caused various blogs (not the most hard-hitting example of journalism, but Total Frat Move being one of them) which report any second hand information from this newspaper to blatantly attribute it to the paper and state that it may not necessarily be trustworthy. If lack of credibility is not the worst nightmare for a news outlet, I’m not sure what is.

With the number of self-proclaimed reporters on blogs and social media outlets, fact check and source citation is more essential than ever. My thoughts: always double check before spreading the information.

6 thoughts on “Fact, Fiction or Fabrication

  1. While I found the dismissal of the Crimson White news writer to be representative, I am not certain if the false-flag in Joe Pa’s death constitutes plagiarism. As the Onward State editor recounted the proceeding, the erroneous information was resulted from “a hoax” and a dishonest source. If what he claimed was factual, it does not resemble elements of plagiarism. Although it is widely acknowledged that falsifying sources and quotations are practices of plagiarism, what happened to Onward State prior to the materialization of that false information seemed to warrant a second thought. The news about Joe Pa’s death was not completely a sand castle but was built upon two sources, though later turned out false. Does publishing false information with the backing of some third-parties deserves a plagiarism accusation? I am doubtful about that.

  2. I really enjoyed how you talked about the Onward State problem, as it brings the situation to life right here in State College. I’m a huge believer in the statement that there is no such thing as “accidental plagiarism or fabrication,” however, and I don’t think this problem can slide just simply because it was a mistake in publication. The public really do have the right to know the latest, but most accurate facts, about a given situation, and even through a simply mistake, Onward State put themselves at risk for future problems by trying to be quick. The quickest and easiest way to avoid any problems is just be a team. Work hard, get the facts straight, and do it right.

  3. I agree with Harry and Tyler that the premature reporting of Joe Paterno’s death fits into the “other journalistic sins” category, not plagiarism. But they are right, too, that the rush to publish can be a factor in a lot of journalistic sins, including plagiarism.

    Chelsea, I’m really glad you brought up two things: First, the idea that technology isn’t all bad–it can be used to debunk false information and alert editors and readers to plagiarism, too. Second, the Morgan Freeman link is really interesting, and we’ll deal a little more with that as we continue to discuss reporting techniques. Remind me if I don’t bring it up in class.


  4. Regarding the premature death of Joe Paterno story — it was a plagiarism-related case because HuffPo and I believe ABC picked up the report without fact-checking or attributing Onward.

  5. I see what you mean, Bobby. The lack of attribution is definitely a kind of plagiarism. I stand corrected.

    Always a good reminder to do your own reporting — and to be careful what you post on social media, as well.


    • Lori, Definitely something most people are guilty of these days.

      And Bobby, I didn’t mean it the way you brought up–since I did mean it as another journalistic sin–but it looks like you’re right.

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