"Using Web links might have saved a distinguished Missouri journalism professor the sight of this nightmare headline: Journalism Professor Admits Plagiarism," Stepno says in his blog.
"I think it's a bad headline based on a bum rap. He didn't deserve it. The word 'plagiarism' implies much worse offense than this case, which may be routine practice for many newspaper columnists: He quoted people. He identified the people he quoted. He just didn't identify a publication where he read those quotes. All that's missing from his column is a link to the earlier story."
As we reported earlier this week, Merrill lifted several quotes from The Maneater, the independent student newspaper at the University of Missouri, Columbia, in his controversial Nov. 4 column without attributing them. Editors reviewing his columns for the past year found five other instances where Merrill had taken quotes without attributing them to the publication where they first appeared.
Stepno offers these distinctions:
- Reporters go out and interview people, then write stories.
- Columnists write opinions. Some columnists don't get out much. Some of them make stuff up so much that they add "I'm not making this up" here and there.
- Plagiarism is taking someone else's writing and presenting it as your own.
- Poaching is borrowing someone else's reporting and presenting it as -- just possibly -- your own. When reporters do it, they're being dumb, lazy or egotistical. When columnists do it, it's probably just columny.
What do you think? Is it OK for columnists to use quotes from other media outlets without citing the original publication? Post a comment here.