Posted on June 3, 2012
Plagiarism and journalism students
When students plagiarize, they take a risk. I guess they tell themselves nothing very bad will happen to them.
When journalism students plagiarize, the risk is pretty damned big. For example, you lose your chance to work as a journalist. Ever.
I’m going to omit the name of the former student in my university’s journalism department who committed the offense of plagiarism multiple times while on an internship. I’m omitting her name because she already has enough on her wall of shame — just Google her, as I did, and you’ll get about 489,000 links — mostly about her offenses as a plagiarist. I’ll substitute “H.M.” for her name in the quotes below.
Apart from whatever disciplinary action the school may or may not see fit to carry out, it is not just [H.M.] who has a problem. So does the School of Journalism and Communications. If it is reluctant to ruin a student’s career, if it does not want to say that youthful mistakes are final, if it finds a promise of contrition and reform persuasive and allows her to continue toward a degree, a shadow will linger over its programs.
That was the opinion of John E. McIntyre, copy desk chief at The Baltimore Sun for 14 years. I agree with him — when a journalism student commits plagiarism, kick them out. H.M. was reported to have changed her major to one in another college at the University of Florida and presumably has graduated by now, but I was not able to verify either one. (By the way, we are the College of Journalism and Communications, not a school.)
The point is not that [H.M.] was a second-year student working on an assignment. The point was that [H.M.] was a journalist working on a story for a 90,000 circulation newspaper. Even if she was an intern, she was “writing” real stories and having them published, just like a professional journalist and should be held to the same standard as a professional. Plus, students shouldn’t be cheating anyway.
That was written on the Tumblr blog of a fellow journalism student of H.M.’s, a year after the internship plagiarism. Understandably, most journalism students at UF were unhappy about the case, thinking H.M.’s ethical failure would reflect on them. I hope not, because I feel certain that the majority of our journalism students would not be unethical in any way.
Another scandal involving a journalism intern affected the integrity of the Colorado Springs Gazette and intern [H.M.], a supposedly award-winning journalism student at the University of Florida. Gazette editor Jeff Thomas revealed that [H.M.] had plagiarized several NYT articles for a 2009 piece she wrote for the Colorado Springs paper, including stories with run dates as old as 1987. Some readers felt that the Gazette should have shared some of the blame since [H.M.] was just an intern, while others believed that a student with credentials as strong as she claimed to have should have known better. [H.M.] was “dismissed” from the paper.
That appeared at position 7 on a list titled Top 10 College Intern Scandals (no date). It’s true that H.M. had won at least one award for her journalism writing (before her downfall), and she was well regarded by her instructors (also before her downfall). But it doesn’t matter.
What students (and journalists) need to understand — thoroughly and utterly — is that dishonesty in this field cannot be forgiven. You don’t get a punishment and then come back to the way things were before, because the only thing you had to base your authority on was your integrity, your reliability. Those are your credentials for getting the trust of the public — the people for whom you produce your journalism.
With one act of dishonesty, all that is gone.
It’s not like a pencil — if you break it, you can get a new one. Not like that at all.
Related post: When plagiarism comes out, stand your ground
Related tutorials: Copying is stealing