We've all heard about plagiarism in one field or another. It seems like every other week there are stories about students, writers, historians and songwriters plagiarizing the work of others.
But, most disturbingly for journalists, there have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years of plagiarism among reporters. These incidents are serious because they damage the credibility not only of the journalists directly involved, but all journalists.
The Temptation to Plagiarize
The problem is, the temptation to plagiarize is greater than ever because of the internet, which places a seemingly infinite amount of information just a mouse-click away. It's simply much easier to plagiarize when the world wide web - and all its resources - is so easy to access.
But the fact that plagiarism is easier than ever means reporters must be more vigilant than ever in guarding against it. So what do you need to know to avoid plagiarism in your reporting? Let's start by defining the term.
What Is Plagiarism?
Simply put, plagiarism means claiming someone else's work is your own by putting it in your story without attribution or credit. In journalism, plagiarism can take several forms:
- Information: This involves using information that another reporter has gathered without crediting that information to the reporter or to his or her publication. An example would be a reporter who uses specific details about a crime - say, the color of a murder victim's shoes - in his story that comes, not from the police, but from an article done by another reporter.
- Writing: If a reporter writes a story in a particularly distinctive or unusual way, and another reporter essentially copies passages from that story into his own article, that's an example of plagiarizing writing.
- Ideas: This occurs when a journalist, usually a columnist or news analyst, advances a novel idea or theory about an issue in the news, and another reporter copies that idea.
So how do you avoid plagiarizing another reporter's work?
- Do Your Own Reporting: The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to gather your own information, do your own reporting. That way you avoid the temptation to steal information from another reporter's story, and you'll have the satisfaction of producing work that is entirely your own. But what if another reporter gets a "scoop," a juicy bit of information that you don't have? First, try to get the information yourself. If that fails...
- Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: If another reporter digs up a piece of information you simply can't seem to get on your own, then you must attribute that information to that reporter or, more commonly, to the news outlet that reporter works for. Reporters are competitive people, and they hate having to give credit to their competitors. But honest, ethical reporters will always properly credit a competitor.
- Check Your Copy: Once you've written your story, read it through several times to make sure you haven't used any information that isn't your own. Remember, plagiarism is not always a conscious act. Sometimes it can creep into your story without your even being aware of it, simply by using information that you've read on a website or in a newspaper. Go over the facts in your story and ask yourself: Did I gather this myself?