How Not to Plagiarize on the Web
By Chantal Braganza
At the time, investigative journalist Gerald Posner had admitted to "inadvertently" lifting sentences, as many as seven, from a Miami Herald piece for a Feb. 2 article he wrote for The Daily Beast. Both writer and editor apologized, calling it an oversight on their part, and continued about their business. Though he told Slate he was "humbled" by the experience, Posner remained on board at The Daily Beast as chief investigative reporter.
Less than a week later another, bigger plagiarism scandal broke at The New York Times. Business reporter Zachery Kouwe got suspended, and later resigned from the paper after multiple cases of passages lifted from sources such as The Wall Street Journal and Reuters were brought to his editors' attention.
Like Posner, Kouwe claimed ignorance. With the amount of coverage he reads online in a day, the source of the info he unknowingly lifted, or the fact that it even had an original source, just slipped his mind.
"I was as surprised as anyone that this was occurring," he told The New York Observer. "I write essentially 7,000 words every week for the blog and for the paper and all that stuff. As soon as I saw, I guess, like six examples, I said to myself, 'Man, what an idiot. What was I thinking?'"
According to online media savant Mathew Ingram, it's what Kouwe (and Posner, I'd argue) weren't thinking: links!
"Linking isn't just a matter of etiquette or geek culture (although it is both of those things)," the former Globe and Mail communities editor wrote in a recent column for GigaOm.com. "It's a fundamental aspect of writing for the web."
This, says Ingram, is something a lot of news sites have been slow to catch on to: either out of a reluctance to direct readers to other sites or the technological barrier of print-first content management systems that aren't link-friendly. Either way, he makes a strong case.
"Before the web came along, journalism and other forms of media were like islands unto themselves, each trying to pretend that it existed alone without any connection to what came before it. Links are like bridges are roads, allowing these islands to connect to each other, and making it easier for readers to draw connections."
Connections that, when referenced and linked, will likely enhance the reader's experience. It's essentially suggesting a great read or alternate point of view to a someone who's likely already interested in what you have to say as a reporter.
Of course, with the rise of searchability and internet savvy, these are also connections readers can make on their own when the links aren't there. And in the case of Posner and Kouwe, the outcome is less than flattering when they do.
Chantal Braganza is a Star intern copy editor and recent graduate of the Ryerson Journalism program. firstname.lastname@example.org