Year in Review - Plagiarism in the Media

The Poynter Institute recently published their annual roundup of plagiarism and fabrication incidents in the media and publishing industry. 2011 saw 21 such incidents in a variety of topics like sports, entertainment, politics, special interests and general news. Writer Craig Silverman highlighted that October 2011 was an abnormally big month for plagiarism, accounting for over 40% of the incidents for the entire year. Read the entire article here.

While repercussions from plagiarism vary—retractions, apologies, fines, suspensions, and firings; one thing that follows these writers is a scarlet letter practically branded across their foreheads of being plagiarists.

Suffice to say that there are a lot of factors and excuses that are involved in plagiarism in the media. Two factors seem most notable; (1) a rush to meet a deadline that causes some missed attribution; and (2) competitive pressure from editors, colleagues and other journalists. It's important for editors to be wary of these pressures and reinforce to their writers the permanence and damage that can result from missed attribution both, to the writer and to the publication.

Sound familiar?

Students face these same pressures constantly. The "real world" isn't so different from school after all. Assignment deadlines and competitive pressure play significant roles in why students plagiarize or fail to attribute their sources as well. Teachers, like editors, need to be wary of these pressures and reinforce to their students the importance of attribution and academic integrity.

Using a tool like Turnitin's OriginalityCheck, instructors can be proactive about checking student papers for similarity and matching content to billions of sources. The goal, however, shouldn't be to bust students for plagiarism and brand them as plagiarists. Rather, instructors can find early warning signs in drafts and low-stakes assignments and use these examples to address issues with students.

Many teachers that use Turnitin allow their students to look at their OriginalityCheck reports on drafts so students can see what they missed and correct it before the final submission. Putting the onus of attribution further on the students.

For the editors and writers out there, we haven't forgotten about you. There are of course proactive steps you can take as well. Turnitin, has a professional plagiarism checker called iThenticate built specifically for authors, researchers, publishers and companies to check articles, manuscripts, research reports, and other documents for potential plagiarism.