Just as the New York Time’s Jayson Blair episode begins to fade from memory, this week we’re reminded that plagiarism is still very much alive and well. BuzzFeed writer and editor Benny Johnson was fired after a review determined he had committed plagiarism and incorrectly attributed information in more than 40 of his posts for the online news site, according to a written apology from the editor-in-chief.
Talking Points Memo (TPM) outlines the incident in a recent post, and while this occurrence may not rise to the level of Blair, who also fabricated sources and datelines, it still begs the question: Why do writers keep doing this?
A May 2014 PlagiarismToday post (yes, there’s a whole blog site devoted to bringing awareness to the epidemic of plagiarism) sites several reasons for an increase in plagiarism scandals, including a combination of decreased staff in newsrooms across the country, less oversight from equally overworked editors and “increased cross-pollination” or stories that appear in multiple publications through content sharing.
So what are some steps we can take in the public relations sector to avoid making these same mistakes?
- Site sources and attribute information. Duh. There are several examples of how to do this in this very blog post and it’s even easier these days, with a rise in the number of people consuming information digitally, to simply include a hyperlink to referenced material.
- Have confidence in your writing. Sometimes young PR professionals, and PR veterans too, can find themselves with a lack of confidence in their writing. PlagiarismToday says there are many different reasons smart people plagiarize, including struggling with their writing skills or not enjoying the task in general.
- Take a break. Don’t overtax your thinking muscles. Taking a break from intense, prolonged periods of focusing on a single task has been shown to increase productivity and performance.
- Ask for help. This goes hand-in-hand with having confidence in your writing abilities. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from a senior level colleague or someone who is not closely associated with the project you’re working on. Often those are the individuals who can spot an error or suggest a new approach to your writing project.
- Pay attention to other people’s work. You may find yourself in the position of reviewing others work. Especially in the world of healthcare marketing where data is abundant, it’s important to pay attention when someone is listing statistics, stating facts or if what you’re reading just sounds familiar. Unless your colleague is the subject matter expert on what they’re writing, facts, figures and quotes need to be sited and attributed.
What do you think about the continuing trend of plagiarism and how we can avoid these mistakes?