Mar 9, 2010

What the Times aptly calls "Journalistic Shoplifting"

This is a very interesting article about Plagiarism in the New York Times. I think anybody who is a writer, not only a journalist, should read it. In this day, the blur between what is yours and what is not, is becoming thinner and muggier. And just as I was reading this very paper I came across this article Fretting about the last of the World's Biggest Cats, also a story in the NYTimes.  Tell me the idea isn't the same as my story for Global Voices on the Plight of the Tiger. Its not verbatim but the idea is the same and the story more or less, except it's updated. But in news, ideas cannot get patented or copyrighted and I guess, the more people/media outlets covering these issues, the better it is for the story, in this case the Tiger. One thing I will say though is I cannot stand it when a journalist or media picks up a story without conducting his/her own investigation into the information or the facts. In the NYTimes Tiger story, at the least, the writer has gone down his/her own leads.

But I have seen that many a time reporters are used to lifting stories, facts and information from other media outlets and writing/using them without verifying sources or even investigating the information.  It shouldn't matter even if it is from a credited paper. If it is used, sources should be quoted/attritubed.  I have seen this often with articles written by foreign journalists who come to Bhutan and sometimes have the wrong factual information, which then gets picked up by another news organization/journalist, who fail to verify the information and this sets out a series of misinformed articles.

Attending a meeting at my daughter's school last week I learnt that even in the schools they are taking this very seriously and are trying to educate the younger generation about the ethics on plagiarism. In this day and age with the internet and being bombarded with so much information, sometimes even kids, leave alone adults, tend to think that something they read somewhere is their own.  At my daughter's school they put the kids assignments through something they call "Turn it" which authenticates manuscripts and assignments.  Kids are forgiven if they find sentences or paragraphs lifted  from others, only twice. The Third time they are out. Pretty harsh but pretty good I say, it certainly does inculcate at this young age a strong sense of writing ethics of what you can and cannot do.

While even a prestigious Newspaper like the NYTimes struggles with this, I know that when I was working for a paper like Kuensel, we took this very seriously and I hope that Bhutanese writers will continue to live up to the mark, even if others are failing to.

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