Roy Peter Clark has written a call to action — or indecision, really — about how to define plagiarism and how to react to activities we confuse with it. Roy Peter Clark is an American writer and editor. He is senior scholar and vice president of the Poynter Institute.
This is an issue that has raised some concerned about for some time, and I think Clark’s piece is respected and long overdue. The technology world has made it far easier to find passageways, and that’s made us quick to take offense about plagiarism. This does nobody any good, and jeopardizes further harmful young journalists and newsrooms that are already under stress.
To be clear, plagiarism is a serious journalistic sin, and should be taken seriously much like in the Ahmad Shafi case. But not all forms of recycling are plagiarism, and that’s the difference that could be feared of being absent today.
Craig Silverman and Kelly McBride are two writers for Poynter. They present an article on how to handle plagiarism and fabrication allegations. If an organization responds poorly to an accusation, it can affect the relationship it has with the staff and community. Whereas handling it properly can help retain the reputation and maintain trust.
Here are some examples of reuse that Roy covers, and that shouldn’t prompt blames of plagiarism:
* revisiting one’s own ideas
* inserting in-house boilerplate
* filling out a story with material from the AP or a press release
All of them should be assessed by top practices. As Clark himself notes, “[m]y decriminalizing these activities does not mean that I approve of them. It means I can consider them, act on them, and even criticize them in a different frame than the stigmatizing one that the word plagiarism requires. I can use a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.”
These things — predominantly the concluding two — are daily in countless newsrooms, practices that save time and sweat for better-quality things. We shouldn’t be satisfied with them, and we should draw lines for what is and isn’t okay. But they are put into the same category with theft of other writers’ sentences or arguments in an effort to cheat.
That’s real plagiarism — a felony where the other issues are misdemeanors at worst. Clark’s piece is bold and clever, and I hope it gets read and taken to heart.