Defining plagiarism: Is there a gray area?

On the topic of charges of plagiarism against John Merrill, a revered journalism professor and ethicist, our dean emeritus Ralph Lowenstein recommends that you read the following, in this order, before coming to judgment:

  1. A Nov. 9 column about the situation by Tom Warhover, the Columbia Missourian’s executive editor for innovation.
  2. Merrill’s column of Nov. 3, which started the controversy.
  3. An Oct. 5 article by Anna Koeppel in a student newspaper, The Maneater, from which Merrill apparently copied quotes without attribution.

You can also read Merrill’s own account of the situation, and an AP story on the same subject.

I don’t know enough (at this point) to take sides on this, but it’s certainly a rich case for discussion in journalism classes.

Update (Dec. 12): Four professors at the Missouri School of Journalism have weighed in, with an essay at the Poynter site.

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