A snapshot of plagiarism
The Macon Telegraph fired a reporter last week after editors discovered striking similarities between his work and work previously published in other papers. We've heard so many of these stories lately that they begin to run together, but this one I had heard about before reading it on Romenesko.
One of these "similar" stories was published years ago in the Morning News (online link not available). So I thought I'd check the archive and see just how similar they were. What follows is a comparison of parts of "6-year plan becoming common at Georgia colleges" by Macon's Khalil Abdullah and "At 4-year colleges, a 6-year plan" by Dallas' Linda Wertheimer.
But the time Mr. Stanton is taking to graduate has become the norm in Texas and across the country. Most students, particularly in public colleges, are taking five to six years to graduate, and in many cases, longer.Macon:
The time Jackson is taking to graduate has become the norm in Georgia and across the country. Students, particularly in public colleges, are taking six years to earn their degrees, and in many cases, longer.::
The reasons are numerous. Working multiple jobs, dropping classes, taking lighter loads and changing majors extended Mr. Stanton's undergraduate college career. Colleges also have added credit hours for many degrees.Macon:
The reasons are numerous.::
Working multiple jobs, dropping classes, taking lighter loads and changing majors extends many students' college careers. Colleges also have added credit hours for many degrees.
Students' slower pace worries some state officials and college leaders, who are working to get students out of college faster, partly because of overcrowding and the financial burden on families.Macon:
The slower pace worries some state officials and college leaders. To tackle the issue, the state university system has formed a task force to find ways to move students through college faster, partly because of overcrowding and the financial burden on families.::
Some college officials say the graduation rates are a reflection of the times and that six-year college stays will be the new standard. The four-year graduation rate is already passe on state and federal statistical charts.Macon:
Some say the graduation rates are a reflection of the times and that six-year college stays will be the new standard. The four-year plan is already passe on federal statistical charts.This goes on for a couple of grafs more before this quote from Dallas:
"We live with the perception that it's still four years, when in reality, it's five and six years," said Brian Fitzgerald, staff director of the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which advises Congress.And in Macon:
"The perception is that it still takes four years, when really it's closer to six," said Ron Henry, provost of Georgia State University and task force chairman. "There are many reasons for it, but because we are behind everyone nationally we need to do better."That quote marks a change in the story. Very little is stolen from that point on, but it does use the Dallas story as a template for the remainder. Subhed here, lead-in graf about state goals, supporting quotes, new subhed, etc.
It's writing by template.
I don't know that it's a firable offense like straight-up plagiarizing. But it certainly isn't ethical.
And it shows me one thing for sure: If I were a writer, this would make me cringe even more. I'd want to Google my work constantly, be on the lookout for frauds.
But even that wouldn't have helped in this case. The Dallas writer's story is from Nov. 1, 2001. Khalil Abdullah's is from Feb. 9, 2004, just a month ago.
That tactic probably allowed his offenses to rack up before detection. (One similar story, from the Washington Post, was written nine years before Abdullah's.) The Telegraph lists 20 such stories, spanning just 15 months.