Sunday, September 13, 2015

Redefining Plagiarism

Kelsey Miller

With rapid change in journalism in the last 10 years comes rapid change in journalistic ethics. As we talked about in class this past week, there is less emphasis on being the first to break the news, but making sure your facts are correct. Although I believe journalists are held more accountable for their actions now more than ever, social media puts even more pressure on journalists to get news out faster than ever as well as compete with citizen journalists. With more pressure to get content out, some journalists may find themselves cutting corners and plagiarizing as a way to please the higher ups. defines plagiarism as "An act or instance of using or closely imitation the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author." I've found this definition to be extremely vague since coming to college.

Every syllabus week I would find the academic integrity blurb on the syllabus with plagiarism and cheating as the biggest academic sin that could have me kicked out of the university. After writing many papers in my college career, I found myself thinking on multiple occasions "Would it be plagiarism if I just changed one or two words in this sentence? It can't be worded any better..."

After reading a few articles on journalistic plagiarism, I found out I'm not alone. People accused of plagiarism are less likely to get the ultimate punishment of termination because publications are rethinking the definition of plagiarism. Jacob Weisberg, head of Slate Media Group, admitted that his media company doesn't have a "strict operational definition of plagiarism" according to a CJR article. "To me [Jacob Weisberg], plagiarism involves not just using someone else's research or ideas without credit, but also taking passages of prose and distinctive language."
Jacob Weisberg, head of Slate Media Group
(photo credit:

While some try to redefine the use of what some would call plagiarism, others find more of a culture excuse for why plagiarism may becoming more common. With journalists not only competing against other news sources, but also against citizen journalists in a new digital age, it puts more pressure on journalists to produce content quicker than ever.

"The more pressure that is put on journalists to produce faster, quicker, cheaper, the more the industry encourages cutting corners, which is just another way of saying cheating," says Deni Elliot, media ethics professor at the University of South Florida in an interview with AJR.

When publications give no repercussions to bad journalistic behavior, the problem will not get any better. On the other hand, I think that Jacob Weisberg makes a good point in that if the journalist obviously has no intentions of taking another journalist's credit and may come up a little short in giving proper kudos, it should not result in termination.

The digital age definitely leaves plagiarism in the grey area with more accessible content than ever before. I still have a difficult time figuring out if I've committed the ultimate journalistic sin and am just too embarrassed to ask the seemingly stupid question of "Is this plagiarism?" After reading so many articles, it is obvious that I'm not alone in my confusion, which means there is something to be said about the ambiguity of the act of plagiarism.

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