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What's behind plagiarism?

"The culprit behind the recurring clusters of plagiarism and fabrication scandals isn’t just irresponsible youth or a few bad apples or the temptations of the Internet," writes Lori Robertson, managing editor of the American Journalism Review. "It may be the newsroom culture itself. ... Many news organizations are demanding more bang for fewer bucks, as budgets are trimmed, training and mentoring are nixed, time for long, heady talks on attribution is nonexistent." And journalism has become "a profession that is viewed more and more like a business and not—as it so lovingly was post-Watergate—as a vital part of a functioning democracy." [1]

Budget-cutting On The News Room Floor

Staffing cuts and declining circulation are hitting leading newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune. "If newspapers take the shortsighted, short-term approach to tighter budgets by whittling away at investigative reporting, others outside the industry - such as blogs and radio - likely will take up the slack, and newspapers' decline will accelerate," writes Editor and Publisher editor Steve Outing. [2] Newsrooms "have become the morgues they so closely resemble, filled with ghosts of the departed and those who await the next ax to fall," writes Kathleen Parker. "But to those in the trenches, cutting staff is exactly the wrong solution, more like a self-inflicted wound trending toward suicide than a remedy. By cutting newsroom staffs, the corporate suits are reducing the likelihood that papers can do what makes them necessary." [3]

The News ... Brought to You By Government Officials

Ted Koppel, who recently stepped down from Nightline, his long-running TV news show, "was a fine journalist and a decent man," writes Fred Branfman, "but to stay atop journalism's establishment, even he had to make a deal with the devil." Branfman recalls his own experiences with Koppel during the war in Indochina, praising his "charisma, good humor and an unusual mix of professionalism and human decency."

At Nightline, however, he became "a card-carrying member of the journalistic establishment. ... And that is the point. The issue isn't Ted himself but what he symbolizes: the institutional and structural corruption of an American media that has chosen to define 'news' primarily as the information it receives from American officials, and which has traded a critical and independent stance for 'access' to powerful figures. As long as the TV lead and Page One stories primarily come, directly or indirectly, from government officials, and as long as critics and dissenting information are ignored or relegated to page A18, Ted Koppel will be the best we get."

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