Saturday, December 08, 2007

More on the Merrill plagiarism case

If you've been following the story of John Merrill, the professor emeritus at the University of Missouri who was relieved of his column in the Columbia Missourian after lifting quotes from a student paper, you should read this piece on the Poynter site.

The article, written by four University of Missouri journalism professors, responds to criticisms that Columbia Missourian Editor Tom Warhover overreacted in publicly humiliating Merrill and stripping him of his weekly column for what some have said is a "misdemeanor" offense. The piece lays out what happened and why Merrill's actions violated the newspaper's and the school's policies on plagiarism.

The Poynter piece includes links to other stories and columns, which offer a variety of perspectives on the incident. This is material for a great journalism ethics lesson because it reaches into gray areas. Read it and discuss it with your students, professors and colleagues.

Ironically, this may end up Merrill's greatest legacy as a journalism educator. I suspect journalism students will be talking about this case for years to come, debating whether lifting quotes for a column is truly plagiarism and how editors should respond when it happens. Perhaps this case will do more to instill the values of journalism than anything Merrill taught in his classroom.

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