After the first incident, we encouraged staff members to read my blog posts about attribution and cheating. After the second, Matt DeRienzo, our Connecticut group editor, suggested a quiz to ensure that staff members understand what plagiarism is and how to attribute their research. (After all, plagiarism generally starts with good research; the problem is the failure to attribute.) I developed the questions and Chris March set the quiz up. Matt made sure that every journalist in our Connecticut newsrooms took the quiz, and he discussed the results with them.
We thought the plagiarism and attribution quiz would accomplish several things:
- If we have some staff members who don’t understand what plagiarism is, the quiz would help educate them (a wrong answer that would amount to plagiarism brings an explanation, including the warning that plagiarism is a firing offense).
- If we have some dishonest staff members, the quiz would put them on notice that we don’t tolerate plagiarism (and document that they know that).
- The quiz would educate staff members about some finer points of attribution where journalism standards are changing, such as attributing to competitors, blogs and press releases and linking, even to competitors.
- The quiz would stimulate newsroom discussion about plagiarism, attribution and journalism ethics.
- The quiz would identify some issues for newsroom training.
We believe and hope the quiz succeeded on all counts. Each question has a wrong answer, a best answer and one or more answers in between. You might not choose the answer that’s plagiarism. But if you attribute vaguely to “media reports,” you get a response saying that we should attribute specifically, even to competing organizations. If you answer that you would attribute but not link, the response explains that you should link.
We are pleased that no one chose the worst answers that would have constituted plagiarism. But we did identify some attribution issues for training, and staff members who chose wrong answers will participate in the training sessions.
Craig Silverman of Poynter has written about the quiz and the results. (Disclosure: Craig and I have worked together on two accuracy workshops.) As Matt explained to Craig, several staff members raised questions about issues such as linking and attribution to other media and to press releases. Matt has responded to each question and shared the responses with the newsroom.
I encourage other editors to use the quiz with your newsrooms. (If you’re going to do that, let me know and I’ll share you in on the spreadsheet with the results. Or if you want your own quiz, with all your staff on a single spreadsheet available only to you, you can copy our quiz and spreadsheet using Google Docs.)
You want to prevent plagiarism before it happens. You want to teach proper attribution and linking. You want to stimulate conversation in your newsroom about good journalism ethics. This quiz can do all three. I encourage newsrooms to use it (or to improve it and let us know how you edited our questions and answers or what new questions you added).
And, by all means, attribute the quiz to the Digital First Connecticut newsrooms. You don’t want to rip off a plagiarism quiz.