to be… or not

Over at StageLeft, Babulican spots his own but slightly altered words at another blog, and nails a plagiarist.

[Webster’s Online:  plagiarize (v):  to steal and pass off  (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source]

Readers over there offer supportive comments or personal experiences of finding their own or another creator’s words somewhere else with someone else’s name attached. 

In J-school and later as a broadcast journalist, I learned that plagiarism was a firing offense. I soon discovered though that “borrowing” by newspeople went on all the time. At this all-news channel, there wasn’t time to check out a wire or radio story. So the copy wound up in the newscast only slightly re-jigged. People who spent time trying to confirm a story by phone usually got chewed out for wasting time. Most of us didn’t like it, but we did it. Reality bites.

Later, as a teacher, I could never prove that a few students were plagiarizing but I had my suspicions. We couldn’t do much though, since we had too many students, too much material to check, and few tools to do so at the time. Still, the university had a zero tolerance policy with plagiarism, a growing problem with serious consequences. The penalty? Immediate expulsion and a failing grade.

In another career incarnation, I became incensed by one editor of a small community newspaper. She routinely put a dateline to her stories when she had not been at that place, often fabricated quotes that were just as often denied by the speaker, and copied stories clearly written by other reporters but published by her own small paper and under her own name. This person also used her newspaper to defame the political opponents of her largest advertisers and supporters, lied about her circulation numbers, and ripped off those same advertisers with inflated rates. Yet this person also received journalistic and small business awards to my consternation, and my shame – as a journalist. 

Why not report her?  Well, she slapped a libel suit on anyone who questioned or complained. Her paper’s supporters had deep pockets for long, expensive legal manoeuvres that emptied the relatively shallow bank accounts of her antagonists. In other words, these people and journalists decided it just wasn’t worth the time, expense or agro. They would cave and run. She would get away with it.

But I decided to complain anyway. I photocopied an article written by a someone else, and stapled it to a copy of a story that appeared in her small paper the very next day, but under this editor’s name. The two stories were almost identical. Her story, as usual, had a bogus dateline. I sent this package to the original reporter along with a letter suggesting his newspaper might want to look into the matter. His newspaper was about to present yet another award to this person.  I also sent copies of this package to both that big city newspaper’s editor-in-chief and publisher, and to the offending (and rather offensive) editor of that small community newspaper.

Result? Nothing. 

I called that big daily’s editor a few weeks later. I left a message wondering whether his paper was going to do anything? Please call back…

Result?  More nothing. 

Actually, that’s not true. I became the target of a hate campaign by this editor and her supporters. They wanted to drive me out of town. They succeeded. It worked. I left a few weeks later, again to my shame as a journalist.

So I applaud anyone who finds examples of plagiarism and exposes it. To me, plagiarism isn’t some harmless, victimless action. It’s intellectual theft. It’s lying, and cheating, and disgusting. It allows idiots to pretend they actually have two cents worth of original thought. It is often, in my experience, practiced by mean little twits who can only advance themselves by stealing from others. It also allows lies to make their way into general knowledge as accepted fact, by pretending to be rational, original thought.

Rant over.

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2 Comments

Filed under Canada, Canadian politics, journalism, writing

2 responses to “to be… or not

  1. Well said. And I thought of this comment by myself.

  2. shmohawk

    Sure. Got it. Okay. Alrighty now.

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