Saturday, June 28, 2008

Plagiarising Anonymously

The DeSoto Sun this morning carries an apparently plagiarized story in the local section (page 4), headlined "Tips for handling fireworks safely." The by-line is "Staff Report." The story is a word-for-word copy of a page posted by the City of North Port on its copyrighted Web site, City of North Port (Fla.) Dot Com. The DeSoto Sun's Staff Reporter has not acknowledged the story's source, the circumstances of its reprinting, and does not feel the urge to share with readers whether permission (perhaps?) was given to publish the municipal writer's research, words, and ideas.

A core tenet of journalism: Honest, ethical reporters tell readers where they got their information. In all but the rarest of circumstances, they accurately identify sources.

Can someone plagiarize anonymously? Sure. Readers just don't know who, precisely, the plagiarist is. For lack of a by-line in this case, readers must credit the publisher and perhaps his section editors with this particularly noxious form of reader deception.

And ...

Regular readers might notice most of this blog has been taken down. The reason is Anonymous sent Old Word Wolf a note claiming that a Sun staffer who regularly appears in these posts is a handicapped person with a physical disability. Anonymous said in vividly unflattering language that OWW has been picking on a disabled person.

While OWW has never met with or spoken to the person in question, and thus had no knowledge of the person's situation, she is certainly very sorry for appearing to have picked on someone who cannot help it, as Anonymous put it.

Now, OWW does not buy Anonymous's implicit argument that a physical disability justifies poor reporting habits and bad journalism practices but decided to not bring the matter up any more. And, in fairness, OWW could not give a free pass to poor reporting by one while appearing to expect better from others.

All this was going to remain unspoken -- and then Lucy, the plagiarism sniffing dog, began barking at the paper, again.

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