Thursday, March 17, 2011

Washington Post's Sari Horwitz suspended for plagiarism

Sari Horwitz issued an apology for “using another newspaper’s work as if it were my own,” and was suspended by the Washington Post.

The New York Times covered the story in the following way:

In an e-mail, a Post spokeswoman said it received word of the problem Monday [March 14], when Randy Lovely, the Arizona Republic editor, sent an e-mail to Marcus Brauchli, the Post’s executive editor, and to the paper’s ombudsman, noting “striking similarities” between Post and Republic articles about Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the shootings in Tucson in January. The Post’s e-mail said the articles were reviewed immediately. “This is the most serious kind of matter for a news organization,” Mr. Brauchli said in the spokeswoman’s e-mail. “Taking information without attribution is unethical and not in keeping with The Post’s standards of journalism. There are no mitigating circumstances for plagiarism.”

Of the text There are no mitigating circumstances for plagiarism, one notes that the treatment of Glenn Poshard at SIU in plagiarizing parts of his Ph.D. thesis suggests there can be mitigating circumstances for plagiarism, at least in some places.

Washington Post Reporter Suspended Over Plagiarism, Post Says

***UPDATE on 18 March 18 2011; from Ombudsman Patrick Pexton:

I’m a hard-liner on plagiarism. I view it as theft. I came up in journalism working at smaller publications that competed with bigger papers — regional and national dailies with abundantly more resources and reporters. We worked doubly hard and frequently scooped our competition.

Reporters at those larger publications regularly “stole” from us, sometimes arrogantly so. In the early years it made me angry, but pretty soon it happened so often, I viewed it with a mix of anger and triumph. Our stories were driving the news and the local debate, forcing our bigger competitors to follow, imitate and occasionally credit us.

But not once did any reporter ever cut and paste whole sentences and paragraphs from something I or my colleagues wrote, as Horwitz did. It’s as audacious as it is lazy. And it is foolish in an age when most journalism is obtainable in seconds with a few mouse clicks.

So my sympathies are with the Arizona Republic and Dennis Wagner, the reporter who did the initial work on the story that was most plagiarized. He made the phone calls, did the legwork and picked out the most compelling parts of the court documents released about Loughner. “It’s not so unusual that you see your stuff paraphrased,” Wagner said. “But then I got the feeling as I read it that it was almost identical, in structure and in wording. I was floored.” (...)

The underlying theme here is the pressure that today’s minute-by-minute, Web-driven, do-more-with-less news culture puts on reporters and editors. The financial and competitive pressures are so intense that journalists are always looking over their shoulders, reading the competition obsessively. This leaves too little time for reflection, for standing back and asking what is really worth writing and what isn’t.

“We’re in a cut-and-paste world right now,” said Higham. “News is breaking every second. It’s a good lesson for all of us to take a deep breath, assess the situation and slow down a little bit.”


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