The Cost of Plagiarism

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Never plagiarize. This is a rule we hear about in any writing format, no matter what the class is. Professors warn us to never use Wikipedia as a source. They caution us to always use attribution whenever there is doubt. The last thing you would think that a journalist of any measure would do is to plagiarize.

According to an article on, prize-winning journalist Johann Hari did.

He attributes this error in judgement to a lack of ethics training. More like common sense training. His list of journalistic errors in judgement includes taking 545 words directly from someone else's work, elaborating quotes, and editing other journalist's Wikipedia pages to include unflattering comments about them.

He has returned the Orwell Prize he won in 2008 and is in the midst of a four month suspension. He is currently undergoing journalism training and it is expected he will resume his position after the four months is over.

Is this punishment enough to fit the crime? You have to think that his actions will affect the way readers view The Independent. When a writer does something that brings their credibility into question, they will lost their effectiveness in connecting with the audience. Readers and critics will not be so fast to forgive this lapse in judgement.

There is a long history of journalist scandals, and most of the plagiarism cases end up with either a resignation by the journalist or their employment being terminated. How will it affect The Independent if they choose to brush this issue aside and proceed as if it never happened?

What message will that send to readers of newspapers everywhere? The market for newspapers is already on the decline; it is unlikely that it can withstand a major blow. Something as simple as this could be a fatal blow for newspapers everywhere.

What do you think should happen to Johann?

Image from Creative Commons.


Megan Evans September 18, 2011 at 10:54 AM  

I don't think someone can simply claim that they did not receive "ethics training" in defense of plagiarism. It is certainly a slippery slope when it come to crediting others' work, but should be done so in order to retain the integrity of the field. Should he be fired? Well, he did come forth and admit his errors, and I think that put him in better standing in the eyes of his employers and the public. If he were to make the same mistake again, however, I think it would be immediate grounds for termination.

Mike Tweeton September 18, 2011 at 6:22 PM  

Great post David

This is quite a serious issue and your post raises some great questions. As consumers of media, we expect and demand authentic journalism. How are we to trust this journalist in the future. A suspension is not the true punishment. The real punishment will be the skeptic eye with witch readers will view Hari’s future articles.

beyerb32010 September 19, 2011 at 8:38 PM  

Megan made a good point. It makes you wonder how he was able to even get in the field if he didn't have proper "ethics training"? This is a forefront understanding in the entire field, and I honestly feel he is doing everything he can and using his understanding of what consumers desire to find his way out of his mistakes. When it comes to something as serious as this, he is completely de-crediting the entire field of journalism and should be punished accordingly.

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