Professional journalism isn’t facing a plagiarism problem…
Our originality breakdown results from many pressures — the overwhelming volume of writing incessantly pushed out into the digital space, the pressure on writers to feed a content beast that’s never satiated, the diminishing economic forces that support professional writing.
Uh-huh. Professional journalism certainly does have an originality problem. But that’s not what’s at issue here. We’re not accusing Wente of merely “relying too heavily on the work of others” (although she does that, too). Wente stands accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism isn’t just a lack of being original: it’s lifting material without attribution and/or quotes, and thus presenting it as though it were your own words. This is not, contrary to what one National Post columnist recently claimed, a new definition cooked up by radical bloggers. It’s bog-standard. It’s older than Wente.
What is at issue is that, in addition to originality, professional journalism has a plagiarism problem. It has a plagiarism problem because some high-profile columnists allegedly plagiarize and, when this happens, other high-profile columnists sally forth in defence of their colleague, trumping up any number of pathetic and contradictory excuses: journalists are busy, the Internet makes it easy to copy and paste, there isn’t enough editorial supervision, there’s too much editorial supervision, it’s because young people don’t follow the same rules as their parents, it’s blah blah blah.
This isn’t good enough. It’s the 21st century, and the media is accountable to the people it serves. We demand that you hold yourself to certain standards, one of which is that you present the work of others as your own. Failing to provide full citations for every idea that ends up on the page is fine. Lifting sentences verbatim is not fine. Most of you are university graduates. Didn’t this come up at least once or twice in whatever institutions you got your degree from?
McBride closes with what must be the least imaginative proposal for solutions ever:
Today’s most original successful writers often combine the new and the old to foster their thinking.
While we’re on the subject of “originality breakdowns,” it’s worth pointing out that a few days ago one of the Globe’s real estate columnists, Leah McLaren, blatantly used her “Home of the Week” column to advertise her own home, which is for sale. Just like Margaret Wente, the Globe’s editors are treating this appalling ethical lapse with the utmost seriousness. There’s now a little blurb at the end of the article saying that “publication of this article was an error in judgement.” You don’t say.
And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, an internal memo was sent around explaining to everyone that the publication of McLaren’s self-promoting piece — which for God knows what reason she felt compelled to refer to on Twitter as “my piece of shameless real estate promotion” — had been “an unintentional oversight.” Yes.
How stupid, exactly, do you think we humble readers are?Tweet