Plagiarism wreaks literacy havoc on newspapers

by Kate Paulman

America has changed.

Security is tighter, everyone is under scrutiny. Officials wantto know, in detail, where you’ve been, who you’ve seen, what you’vedone.

The public is distrustful of everything you do.

Hell, even your shoes are suspect.

Yes, the times, and The Times, they are a-changing.

America media is now post-Jayson Blair.

The public – the wonderful, rational American public – isinsanely distrustful of the American press, and with goodreason.

Why should you trust a group of people who proclaimed Deweypresident, propagates phrases like “precision bombing” and bringsyou only the most important news – like Simpson College’s choice ofCoke over Pepsi?

Incidents of dishonesty in the industry have brought the entireprofession under scrutiny. Unfortunately, it’s kind of like kidsriding in the back of an van. The story (and clich����) isfamiliar: every younger sibling has dealt with it. Everyone isgetting along fine until one kid decides to poke another one. Soon,gummy bears are flying, there’s a finger dangerously close to anose and a voice chanting “I’m not touching you, I’m not touchingyoooou.”

Eventually, one of the gummy bears will hit the driver. Then,the driver looks in the rearview mirror and angrily says, “I’llturn this car right around,” or “You do not want me to come backthere.”

Even if you were sitting quietly in your one of seven passengerseats, you will still feel the wrath. You, innocent you, have tofeel the sting of the angry glances.

It’s a played-out clich����, but it still works: A few badapples spoil the whole bushel.

Like flying gummy bears in a soccer caravan, plagiarism andfabrication are the terrorist acts of journalism. As such, theycause heightened security and an overall atmosphere of tension.

Okay, so maybe reporters don’t have to get their shoes scanned.However, it has caused professional – and college – editors toresort to guerrilla tactics to catch plagiarizers.

Editors at papers nationwide have to crack down on plagiarismharder than the English department. On investigation, The New YorkTimes found that Jayson Blair had fabricated some part of at least36 of his stories. Think about it.

The Gray Lady was lying to us. The newspaper that I went to for”all the news that’s fit to print.” It’s heart wrenching. It’s likefinding out that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real. Or figuring out whyyour brother always called you Fed-Ex.

Seattle Times business columnist Stephn Dunphy was just bustedfor 13 cases of “blatant plagiarism” according to an internalinvestigation lead by executive editor Mike Fancher. In sixstories, Dunphy used other writers’ exact wording. And in eightother stories, he should have “better attributed material fromother publications.” Dunphy worked for the Times for 37 years.

Holy crap.

Who knows how many such cheaters there were before – or are now,or will be – that were never caught.

As a generation that has never been without the Internet andcut-paste, plagiarism is an easy, yet deadly, slippery slope tostart down.

And from the Jayson Blair case, it’s clear that journalisticplagiarism leads to financial downfall.

Yeah right.

Recent incidents of plagiarism have brought the entire industryunder intense scrutiny. What’s worse, the offenders areromanticized and well-paid.

In the movie “Shattered Glass,” for example, audience membersare almost made to feel sorry for Stephen Glass, who made up all orparts of 27 stories for The New Republic. What the movie leavesout, however, is Glass’ big fat book deal that came out of hislies. His book, “The Fabulist,” sells for $24 at Barnes andNoble.

Blair’s book, “Burning Down My Master’s House: My Life at theNew York Times,” sells for $24.95. The nine-cassette set goes for$32.95. The CDs are priced at $34.95.

Why would a beginning reporter, earning $20,000-32,000 per year(if they’re lucky), be drawn to cheat when, clearly, it means theend of journalistic career?

Plagiarism in stories, currently, is not a major problem for TheSimpsonian staff – their term papers may be another story.

However, professional plagiarism has cast a dark shadow on allcollege publications.

Now I have to be skeptical and run an accuracy check if JoeFirst-Year turns in a story that uses five-syallable words andflowing syntax. Maybe Joe is a fantastic (or pompous) writer, ormaybe he’s a word moocher – it has to be checked out.

Two years ago, I would have said Joe is an 18-year-old literarymaster, but now I have to eye his story like I’m looking forWaldo.

These checks will undoubtedly continue, though plagiarism hasnot reared its ugly yet eloquent head at The Simpsonian.

But if we ever start filing stories from Baghdad, there’sdefinitely a problem.