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Posts Tagged ‘Kelly McBride’

Journalism has no such sin as low-level plagiarism.

The very act of rewriting stolen material makes a theft more sinister and deliberate than the stupid plagiarists who steal whole paragraphs, passages or stories verbatim.

Plagiarism accusations against Fareed Zakaria continue, and Poynter’s Kelly McBride evaluated them for Politico and concluded: “It’s plagiarism. Low-level. But plagiarism.”

Kelly is a longtime friend and one of the strongest and wisest voices on journalism ethics. Several years ago we collaborated on a series of ethics seminars and my respect for her grew each time we worked together. I have praised and promoted the ethics book she edited with Tom Rosenstiel, The New Ethics of Journalism. And I’ll invite and publish or link to any response she has to this post.

But she’s wrong to use the phrase “low-level” in describing dozens of instances of obviously deliberate theft of other people’s work. That’s not all she said. She also said, “It seems obvious that Fareed was overly reliant on his source material.” I agree with that, but it’s a huge understatement. He was overly reliant on his source material, without attribution.

Here’s how we defined plagiarism in Telling the Truth and Nothing But, a book on which I collaborated with journalists from more than 30 journalism organizations, media companies and universities: (more…)

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Update: The final draft of the code update was revised again yesterday. I like what I’ve heard about the changes, but I haven’t analyzed it yet.

I will be leading a session at the Excellence in Journalism conference today about the broader ethics discussion in journalism.

At the EIJ conference, the Society of Professional Journalists will vote on adoption of a new ethics code. Here is the latest draft of the code, though it could be amended in floor debate today. My criticism of the revision stands, and I won’t belabor it either in this post or in my EIJ session.

Other ethics initiatives I will discuss include:

Poynter’s Guiding Principles

McBride_New_Ethics_of_JournalismThe new Poynter Guiding Principles for the Journalist, published in the 2013 book, The New Ethics of Journalism, edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel. I blogged in 2012 from a Poynter event to discuss updating the Guiding Principles, then blogged again with suggestions for the new principles and in 2013 with praise and criticism for the completed guidelines. Among other changes, the guiding principles changed two of the three core values from the original Guiding Principles, authored by Bob Steele in the early 1990s. The 1990s principles were organized around the values of truthfulness, independence and minimizing harm. Now the core values are truthfulness, transparency and community. The 1990s SPJ Code and Guiding Principles were strongly similar, with SPJ using the same three core values, plus accountability (Bob dealt with accountability in his elaboration on the other values). In the final draft of the SPJ update, the core values are unchanged, except that transparency is paired with accountability in the last section. (more…)

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Margaret Sullivan, photo linked from Twitter avatar

The mass killings in California last week underscore a point I made in 2012: News media should reconsider giving mass murderers the attention they clearly crave.

I didn’t blog about this immediately after the May 23 killings because I was focused on other matters and I haven’t repeated this point every time a murderer goes on a rampage. But I was immediately struck with how clearly this case was a successful attempt by the killer to go out in a blaze of infamy. His hateful videos and his 141-page diatribe (I think calling it a “manifesto” perhaps overdignifies it) make it clear that attention was as much a motive of this hate crime as was misogyny.

I’m discussing this case a week late because Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, addressed the issue of whether the Times should have published the diatribe and video.

Sullivan’s a friend and the best public editor the Times has had. I’m glad she raised the issue of whether the Times should have published these items and the name of the killer. But I disagree with her conclusion that the Times’ decisions were the right ones.

“In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public,” she wrote. (more…)

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Someone should compile detailed ethical guidance for journalists in the difficult decisions we face in doing our jobs today.

The journalism conversation about ethics has been more robust this year than at any time I remember in my career, and I’ve been fortunate to be involved in much of it. But I think we need still more.

Two notable collaborations have re-examined the most important statements of journalism ethics:

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McBride_New_Ethics_of_JournalismI like the new Guiding Principles for the Journalist, spelled out in the opening chapter of The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.

The overall concepts of these principles reflect the same core values as Bob Steele’s Guiding Principles from about 20 years ago, but also reflect the need to update journalism ethics. Bob’s principles were organized around these three themes:

  • Truthfulness
  • Independence
  • Minimizing harm

The new principles, authored by the book’s editors, Poynter’s Kelly McBride and the American Press Institute’s Tom Rosenstiel, are organized around these three themes:

  • Truthfulness
  • Transparency
  • Community

The new principles note the value of independence, but recognize the complexity of today’s journalism and give excellent advice on being transparent about connections that may influence our content. In my October suggestions for the Guiding Principles, I merged independence and transparency into one section, so I’m pleased with this change. The new principles still call on journalists to minimize harm, but do so in the broader context of guidance about our relationships to the communities we serve. As a frequent advocate of community engagement, I am delighted to see it recognized as a core principle of journalism.

My primary disappointment in reading through the principles was their failure to explicitly address the ethics of linking. The transparency section generally calls on journalists to show their work and “explain” their sources, but in an apparent effort to avoid mentioning specific platforms in the principles, the authors stopped short of directly addressing a significant issue on which many journalists are either lazy or resistant. (more…)

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I was privileged to participate today in the symposium Journalistic Ethics in the Digital Age at the Paley Center for Media in New York, presented by the Poynter Institute and craigconnects.

The symposium was part of an effort to update the Guiding Principles for the Journalist, developed 25 years ago, when Bob Steele was Poynter’s ethics leader. After I argued unsuccessfully that the Society of Professional Journalists should update its Code of Ethics, I was pleased to join Poynter’s effort to update the guiding principles (which overlap closely with the SPJ code). (more…)

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I guess I should admit that I occasionally recycle points and lines in my blog and in speeches and workshops. I don’t think I do this in the way that Jonah Lehrer did in his New Yorker blog. I think Lehrer crossed a noteworthy line and I don’t think I have. But I do recycle.

I’ll discuss all that shortly, but here are some points I believe I have repeated in some fashion (and I’m pretty sure this list is incomplete):

  • Don’t turn obstacles into excuses; make them the war stories of your innovation success.
  • Newspapers are experiencing a time similar to the pre-Gutenberg monks who handmade artistically inscribed Bibles.
  • Several points about why paywalls on newspaper websites are a bad idea.
  • Tips on using Twitter.
  • Criticism of newsrooms with restrictive, fear-based social media policies.
  • Tips on maintaining your digital profile and finding jobs in digital journalism.
  • Blogging tips.
  • Never say no for someone else.
  • Newspapers need to develop more diverse digital revenue streams. (OK, I’m going to stop coming back here and adding bullets; I think you get the point and I already said this list was incomplete.)

Some people have used the term “self-plagiarize” to describe what Lehrer did. I don’t consider that phrase accurate. Plagiarism is theft of words and you can’t steal from yourself. Recycling, remixing or repurposing seem to better describe what he did (I just changed that sentence to take out the word “offense” because I don’t think recycling, remixing and repurposing are offenses in themselves. They are honorable and common writing practices). (more…)

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