My students know that plagiarism is bad. You’d think a major wire service would know it, too.
But it would seem that maybe the Associated Press doesn’t know that failing to properly cite sources is plagiarism. Or perhaps the AP does know, but doesn’t care. When your business is built on the premise that you are a reliable source of information, it seems to me that this is a very bad strategy.
Over at Huffington Post, Larissa Alexandrovna relates the details. She did painstaking legwork to put together a story about changes to the U.S. guidelines about who gets access to classified information. She and her editor wrote the story. The AP picked up the story. The AP, however, didn’t credit Alexandrovna’s article (and all the research that it was built on) as a source:
My editor and I … co-authored an article, after nearly two weeks of work, about the Hadley changes. The piece covered an overview of the most questionable changes, as there were many subtle changes in general. One key area we focused on was what appeared to be the relaxing of sexual discrimination guidelines. …
In response, several GLBT groups contacted us and issued a statement. We gave the advocacy groups our notes and article, which they then took to the AP and demanded that the story be covered. The AP was given our article and maybe our notes.
On March 14, 2006, the AP did their own article, left out any attribution to me or my publication and lifted not only my research but also whole sections of my article for their own (making cosmetic changes of course).
We contacted an AP senior editor and ombudsman both and both admitted to having had the article passed on to them, and both stated that they viewed us as a blog and because we were a blog, they did not need to credit us. What we are or are not is frankly irrelevant. What is relevant is that by using a term like blog to somehow excuse plagiarism, the mainstream press continues to lower the bar for acceptable behavior. It need not matter where the AP got the information, research, and actual wording from. What matters is that if they use it in part or in whole, they must attribute properly. A blog or a small press publication or grads students working in the corner of a library all equally deserve credit for their work, period.
Unfortunately this is far too common and has happened to me and to other writers and bloggers far too frequently. This time, however, we made a point of tape recording the AP apparatchiks admitting to taking our work and using it without attribution, stating “we do not credit blogs”.
While they will not credit us in any way; they will instead credit advocacy groups, as though that somehow excuses them from having to attribute rightfully. This is what their first article on the documents said: “Lesbian and gay advocacy groups recently found the change in an 18-page document distributed by National security adviser Stephen Hadley on Dec. 29, without public notice.” Yes, the groups had found it in my article, which they gave to the AP.
Yet, even after the advocacy groups reminded the AP of where they got the information, the news organization would not provide attribution.
(Emphasis in the original.)
Let’s take things slowly, so everyone can keep up:
Representing the words or ideas of others as your own is plagiarism.
If you use someone else’s research and analysis to build your story, you must cite it. Otherwise, you’re committing plagiarism.
It doesn’t matter whether the source is a professional journalist for a major media outlet or a small press, a writer for an online publication or a blog, or a student or private citizen. If you use their words or ideas, you must cite the source. Otherwise, you’re committing plagiarism.
If you fail to cite your sources, in essence you’re a liar. And, if you’re a liar, there’s no reason at all to trust any of the “information” you are putting out as authoritative.
I trust that all the stories about the utter depravity of the “mainstream media” are overblown. Surely, once the major news outlets who pick up stories from the AP — the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times, etc. — become aware of this situation, they will take action.
Any newspaper with a shred of integrity would know better than to pick up reports from a wire service that thought plagiarism was no big thing. If it is indeed the case that AP senior editor and ombudsman make it a policy not to properly cite sources, newspapers aware of this policy would have to stop using AP stories. If we don’t know the real source for a story, how can we believe it? And, if we know that a wire service asserts its “right” to plagiarize, we have even better reason to doubt the credibility of the stories they distribute.
To continue to do business with an outlet so unclear on basic journalistic ethics would call the newspaper’s own journalistic ethics into question.
But I don’t believe that the MSM is that far gone … do you?
I suppose we’re about to find out.