Friday, July 23, 2010

The problem of plagiarism

Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V. Or copy-paste. It's that easy to pass off someone's work as your own. But plagiarism is not only unethical, it can also be a crime: you can be hauled off to court for stealing someone else's intellectual property, be it a paragraph from a newspaper article or a chapter from a book. If that's the case, why does plagiarism continue? And what can writers and editors do about it?

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at The Poynter Institute, explains how, in the post-Jayson Blair era, plagiarism has "become a more mundane, run-of-the-mill crime". And, in her column, she also provides advice and simple tips to both writers and editors on how to avoid the plagiarism trap.

Here's one of her suggestions for writers:

Do not cut and paste information from other sources into your notes pages. Instead, create bullet points where you synthesize the information in your own words and note the original source. 

And a suggestion for editors:
Require your writers to attribute.

To read the column in its entirety, and you must if you are a media student, go to "Why Plagiarism Continues & What Writers, Editors Can Do About It".

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

AP's professional and ethical standards

Associated Press (or AP) is one of the world's leading news agencies.

Since discussions on professional and ethical standards are a regular feature of my journalism classes, Commitscions will benefit from studying the guidelines — the code — followed by AP journalists.

Here is a sample:

In the 21st century ... news is transmitted in more ways than ever before  in print, on the air and on the Web, with words, images, graphics, sounds and video. But always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news.

That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions. It means we will not knowingly introduce false information into material intended for publication or broadcast; nor will we alter photo or image content. Quotations must be accurate, and precise.

It means we always strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information  not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable.

It means we don't plagiarize.

Let me know what you think.

When someone dies, we prefer to talk about only the good things they did

But when you are a journalist, it may be necessary to remove your blinkers, and also remove the blinkers from the eyes of the public.

Last year, in July, an icon of journalism, Walter Cronkite, died in the US. I had read only great things about him.

Now here's a wonderful columnist, Roy Peter Clark, pointing out, as a public service, Cronkite's flaws.

Do you agree with this approach? Do you like the writing?

Roy Peter Clark is the Poynter columnist whose Writing Tools blog provides intelligent and helpful advice to writers, both beginners and veterans. Read, for example, his column on the use of the semicolon, "Good semicolons make good neighbours". The article also gives you tips on the use of other punctuation marks. A must-read for Commitscions.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tweeting can be hazardous to your job... a CNN journalist found out after she posted a note on Twitter expressing admiration for a late Lebanese cleric considered an inspiration for the Hezbollah militant movement.

Two days after her tweet was published, she was sacked by CNN.

Read why here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Getting into journalism after an MBA? Is it worth it?

Yes, says Sidin Vadukut, the managing editor of in his witty "Cubiclenama" column in Mint. Here's an excerpt:

First I tried convincing them [management students] by declaring that the trade-offs are totally worth it. Sure, they would make much less money, forfeit expense accounts, give up swanky offices and never be able to buy palatial homes with infinity pools by the time they are 35.

But in return most journalists don’t have to wear suits, ties or closed footwear to work — “You guys can walk into a newsroom right now in those very same clothes and nobody would say a thing! Except you there in the bright orange shorts with yellow flowers. You should go into advertising.”

Also, I told them, journalists attend fewer meetings, freely access Twitter at work, and only use spreadsheets to calculate House Rent Allowance.

As an added bonus, I said, we sometimes go entire weeks without using phrases such as “touch base”, “boil the ocean” and my personal peeve: “let us revert from our end”.

Read the full column here. Make sure you read the concluding paragraph.