Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Motivates Plagiarism and Falsities in News?

Taylor Evans,

In the movies, journalism is often portrayed as a profession for the truth-seekers, the cynics who want to tell the story no matter what it takes. These hardened professionals jump through hoops to inform the public of misdeeds and n'er do well politicians. What you don't see in the movies is pressure to perform and other factors that drive journalists to sometimes fabricate the perfect article.

As many know, journalism is a competitive field where everybody wants to get their stories on the front page. Intense deadlines and sometimes boring leads doesn't help get the story written any faster. The combination of the two can lead to journalists embellishing their stories to help themselves out. These little 'shortcuts' can be seen in the work of reporters from a plethora of publications, including USA Today and The New York Times, two of the top papers in the country.
USA Today fell victim to plagiarism when it was brought to light that Jack Kelly, a foreign correspondent for the paper, was making up sources, scenes and plagiarizing the work of others. If USA Today isn't immune to creeps like Kelly, who is?

Jack Kelly

Many papers have come under fire for not scrutinizing their top journalist more closely when accused of making things up or straight up plagiarism. These reporters draw readers, but that doesn't make it right to publish them. The media shots itself in the foot in this regard. There are cases of colleagues of famous journalist attempting to whistle blow, but they are ignored. This allows for unethical journalism practices to continue to flow through the newsroom.
I feel that editors are less likely to turn a blind eye to accusations of plagiarism in light of what has occurred at many media outlets. Although not ethical, this could be good for journalism, causing more intense scrutiny of the work that is being created.

Something I found interesting in the reading was the way money could be a bigger factor than I had originally thought. If you have great stories to tell, you'll get paid more. There are journalists who go on to profit from their stories by expanding them into books or creating screenplays. If you're a great writer, you can create a lucrative career inside and outside of the newspaper industry.
The media sometimes turns a blind eye because of the positive attention a particular columnist or writer might earn them. They are profiting from their stories, so why not keep ignoring it? it's not like the problem will get out of hand. Of course, it eventually does. People want to know, why are they misleading the public? Why didn't someone do something sooner?

Plagiarism is obviously against every ethical code journalists stand for. Every journalist isn't a cheater, it's just a few who make the rest of us look bad. I don't think journalistic ethics are on a downward slope, they just need to be reiterated everyday to every journalist. Stricter scrutiny in the workplace could be a helpful tool too. By listening to the concerns of others, these problems can be stopped before they even start.

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