MetaMedia: Plagiarism cheats readers, ruins careers

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In the 2005 movie, “Man of the House,” directed by Stephen Herek, the character of Texas Ranger Roland Sharp said, “Plagiarism is an academic crime. It is punishable by academic death.”

But stealing someone else’s words is not just an academic crime — it’s even more serious for journalists. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics puts it plan and simple: “Never plagiarize.”

Jayson Blair, 27, former journalist for The New York Times, is the classic example of blatant plagiarism and the consequences.

According to The New York Times, in 2003, “he fabricated sources, plagiarized material from other publications, and pretended to be places he never went.”

In 2003, the San Antonio Express-News questioned Blair’s story concerning the Texas family of Army Specialist Edward Anguiano, who was missing in Iraq.

Blair plagiarized a story by Macarena Hernandez, a reporter of the Express-News who had interned  with Blair at The New York Times.

Blair lost credibility when a Times investigation found plagiarism in 36 of 73 stories written for the national desk. It is unknown how many of 600 stories he wrote at The Times may have contained plagiarism.

When discovered, Blair’s career and those of two senior editors ended. Howell Raines, his executive editor wrote in the Atlantic, “I think of Jayson Blair as an accident that ended my newspaper career in the same unpredictable way that a heart attack or a plane crash might have.”

The Times calls Blair’s career a “profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the paper,” CNN reported.

Journalists know that if they use information from others in their stories, they attribute the information to the proper source.

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