The Colorado Springs Gazette discovered that a summer intern in their newsroom published articles with plagiarized passages. The editor of the paper, Jeff Thomas, deemed this plagiarism a breach of the paper’s trust with the public:
[R]eporter Hailey Mac Arthur, a college student doing a summer internship in our newsroom, has been dismissed from The Gazette. The Gazette forbids plagiarism, which is the act of employing the creative work of someone else and passing it off as your own. None of the four Gazette articles attributed borrowed material to the [New York] Times, as is required when quoting the work of some other publication.
Here are selected excerpts from the four Gazette stories, paired with links to the Times news stories from which material was inappropriately borrowed. …
The side-by-side comparisons are pretty damning. (I found it interesting that the plagiarized bits included both New York Times articles from last month and articles dating back to 1987. Mac Arthur apparently went to some trouble to steal just the right turn of phrase for each article.)
Every day, tens of thousands of citizens come to The Gazette and gazette.com in good faith, expecting from us in return that we will report the news as accurately, completely and originally as possible. That good-faith relationship is the foundation of all that makes The Gazette a viable enterprise. Without trust in our journalism, there is no business. For breaching that trust, I apologize to all Gazette readers.
The reaction in the comments to the Gazette‘s transparency in identifying these instances of plagiarism and the identity of the reporter who committed them is rather mixed. Some of the commenters argue that this is the youthful mistake of a college student who couldn’t be expected to know any better, and so splashing her name across the internet will unfairly kill her future in journalism. (Does this sound familiar?) Others argue that a sophomore in a journalism program ought to have an inkling of what plagiarism is, and that plagiarism is bad.
Indeed, the cached bio Mac Arthur posted on her blog (which is now set to “private”) suggests that in her own estimation, she was savvy to the ways of journalism:
I am an award-winning journalist and second-year student at the University of Florida, working toward a bachelor of science in journalism and a bachelor of arts in economics. UF’s College of Journalism and Communications touts one of the top 10 journalism schools in the nation, you know.
I will return to school in August after completing a summer reporting internship on the metro desk of The Gazette (cir. 96,000), located at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colo. Track my stories written for The Gazette – three spread across A1 during my first two weeks – at the progress page. …
Still other commenters on The Gazette site argue that someone else at the paper must share responsibility for allowing Mac Arthur’s plagiarism to be published — that an editor ought to have been monitoring the intern’s output for plagiarized passages.
Call me a Pollyanna, but I have to believe that a student in a top 10 journalism school, who has already interned for another newspaper and a magazine, and who has won at least one journalism award, must be presumed to be aware of the minimal standards of ethical journalism. Between her professors and the people supervising her earlier internships, someone must have been communicating important information about what good journalism looks like, right? If Mac Arthur didn’t manage to absorb any of those lessons, sidelining her is not just in the interests of the paper’s readers, but also in her own interest. And if we’re to the point where articles must be run through Turnitin.com before they are typeset, then it’s time to abandon the journalistic profession altogether.
Whatever obligations The Gazette may have to interns like Mac Arthur, the paper has an even greater obligation to its readers to provide articles that conform to standards of good journalism. Thomas’s article suggests that the editor takes that responsibility seriously.
Here’s hoping that Mac Arthur’s journalism professors at UF are ready to help her learn from her breach — or, if that’s impossible at this point, to help steer her in the direction of a major where she won’t further damage the public trust.
Hat-tip: Abel Pharmboy