Guardian silent on plagiarism question

It’s amazing how unresponsive some media organizations can become when they are called to account.

A case in point is a British website, guardian.co.uk, the online edition of the Guardian newspaper.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a column by one of its media commentators, Rory O’Connor, sounded familiar. So I checked into it.

Sure enough, two passages in O’Connor’s column — one of them a very long paragraph of a hundred words — were virtually identical to a news release put out by Unesco a month earlier. If you’re curious, compare the extracts at the end of this post.

I raised the matter in the comments section of O’Connor’s blog, giving my name, as I always do, and my email address. My comment was duly published but there was never a response to my request for an explanation.

I then emailed the editor of the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section, in which O’Connor’s column had appeared. Again, no response.

Finally I emailed the Guardian’s “readers’ editor” on May 3, almost three weeks ago. I think that’s plenty of time for a response, and I’ve received none.

As a long-time journalist and editor, I find it astounding that a) the Guardian seems unconcerned about what looks like plagiarism, something most journalists regard as a cardinal sin, and b) that it doesn’t even respond to a reader’s legitimate question in a timely manner.

I’d like to close with two points:

  1. If a writer wants to use passages from a news release or anywhere else, they should always quote and acknowledge the source.
  2. Anyone who writes a “column” or “opinion piece” ought to be able to come up with original words to express original thoughts — that’s really the whole idea of being a columnist, or a blogger for that matter.

From Rory O’Connor’s column of May 1, 2007:

Born in 1958, Politkovskaya studied at the school of journalism of Moscow State
University. She was a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. An outspoken
campaigner for human rights, Politkovskaya was particularly well known for the
hundreds of articles she published on the conflict in Chechnya. Her work was
recognized nationally and internationally. She received the Golden Pen of Russia
award, a Special Diploma of the Jury of the Andrei Sakharov Prize “For the Life
Sacrificed to Journalism” and the Olof Palme Prize, among many honours. She was
murdered at the entrance to her home in Moscow on October 7, 2006.

From Unesco news release 2007-31 of March 30, 2007:

Born in 1958, Ms Politkovskaya studied at the school of journalism of Moscow State
University. She was a columnist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. An outspoken
campaigner for human rights, Ms Politkovskaya was particularly well known for the
hundreds of articles she published on the conflict in Chechnya. Her work was
recognized nationally and internationally. She received the Golden Pen of Russia
award, a Special Diploma of the Jury of the Andrei Sakharov Prize “For the Life
Sacrificed to Journalism” and the Olof Palme Prize, to name but a few. She was
killed in the entrance of her home in Moscow on October 7, 2006.

2 thoughts on “Guardian silent on plagiarism question

  1. The UNESCO ‘news release’ – do you mean a press release or a news story?

    Using a press release verbatim is very lazy rather than plagiarism.

    Using a news story verbatim is plagiarism, though muddied slightly if the publisher calls it something ambiguous like ‘news release’.

  2. Using a press release verbatim goes beyond mere laziness in my opinion. It is fundamentally dishonest to represent someone else’s words as your own. Moreover, in this case, it was a column – which is supposed to be a vehicle for original thinking.

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