Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Journalism prof responds to plagiarism charge

John Merrill, the University of Missouri-Columbia journalism professor who admitted to lifting quotes from a student newspaper last week, published a response to the incident in Wednesday's Columbia Missourian.

Titled "Carelessness is not Plagiarism," the piece begins: "After some 60 years of dedicated service to journalism and teaching, I must admit that I am almost traumatized by the recent tempest in a teapot incident related to what The Missourian editor has called my plagiarism. I have written and edited more than 30 books, articles for journals and newspapers, and a column in The Missourian for three years, and this is the first time I have been accused of plagiarism. The media have stressed the monolithic negative of the term 'plagiarism' and have not attempted to consider ethical and semantic aspects of the story. So I am left in public view as a villain, a linguistic thief, or worse."

Merrill, a journalism professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, was relieved of his weekly Sunday column for the Columbia Missourian, a community paper written by students, last week after editors found he had used quotes from The Maneater, the independent student newspaper in town, without attribution. (You can read about the incident in this earlier blog post.)

Merrill contends that taking quotes without attribution is not plagiarism but simply carelessness.

"I did not lift any sentences or paragraphs from anybody else’s writing," he writes. "I look on these short, directly quoted expressions from the two women in the news story as 'news-facts' and see them as in the public domain. Certainly, if what I did is plagiarism, it was unintentional and could, at the most, be considered technical, not unethical."

The piece has a number of comments, mostly from Merrill supporters.

What do you think? Is lifting quotes plagiarism or just carelessness? Was the Columbia Missourian right to take away Merrill's column or did the editors make a "tempest in a teapot," as Merrill contends? Post a comment below.

No comments: