As a writer I find myself with strong opinions. Sometimes I sit in awe and watch my local news. These current happenings are things motivate me and I want to write about them, talk about them, and discuss them in my own words; my own way, but never once do I stop and consider these THREE little BUZZ KILL words that could kill my entire career.
a) Plagiarism – stealing another’s work (or not properly citing sources!)
b) Censorship – &^%#%^)(*@#$ (need I say more?)
c) Infringement (Content – violation of law or right as it pertains to stealing someone’s work ie: copyrighted, written, lawful etc material)
I never was worried until most recently, when a friend and colleague of mine, whom has been reporting professionally on AC in his own style for over two years, (and other sites succinctly prior to that) , just got one of his articles snubbed for these very same reasons.
This was the same colleague that in December 2005 told me of a real estate market collapse before the market collapsed and was worried when no one would listen and was out spending money frivolously. The highly respected Economist that called as if premonition the very fact that one of the major banking credit companies was going to go out of business EIGHTEEN months before they did. Or how about providing evidence of the economic meltdown in March of 08 officially before most of our government did in third quarter of that same year? This journalist may be ballsy, outspoken, and downright quirky at times, but there’s one thing he’s not: A PLAGARIST.
I read the article and was wondering what could have happened. Apparantly someone could have misunderstood, or perhaps some strange thing was happening with the source citing in the, I don’t know. However, as an author, it worries me that freedom of speech is not so free anymore, oh wait, I think someone else has already said that phrase, so let me move on quickly before I am cited for plagiarism. My case in point. Oh no, another phrase surely used elsewhere.
Do you ever once think to stop and see if anyone else has already done what you are writing about? I don’t, but maybe I should. Realize we must cite sources if you are reporting about something that has already been reported on.
To test this exact theory, I just stopped in my tracks and plugged in a search word “Censorship” on AC and found a nice article written on Feb 5th by another AC Content producer Ryan Phillippe. I haven’t read it but this proves my point that great minds think alike! Oh no, what if I say the exact phrase he said in his article without having read it? Would this be plagiarism? It wouldn’t be but it could be. Do you see the dilemma? OUCH.
Has someone else said these exact words I just typed? I am sure “great minds think alike” should be a cited source reference. WHAT ABOUT THESE WORDS HERE-à “My cat is hungry.” I think that text could have been cited in 80,000,000 references but did I plagiarize because I didn’t cite my sources? These are chalked up to common sayings and honestly what we call coincidental mishaps and common use of verbiage and I think most likely wouldn’t fry me in court or kill my career. Still, you must worry.
Therefore, that having been said, my colleague’s article having been snuffed out made me realize that we should all be worried as journalists. This is a very serious topic and could impact each and every one of us here on AC.
Here are the events that happened and I want you to know this could happen to you.
With current events and this economy as it is, it is a fact that everyone, everywhere is reporting on the economic meltdown. Being that my colleague is into finance he reads hundreds of news sources and keeps in tune with local finance (all of which make no sense to me, and I’m thankful for when he does report them in easy to read lingo.)
He then decided to report on these very same issues that are impacting the United States–breaking down days of news down from ten or so sources into one article, into easy to understand lingo for the modern diva like me. So when he took the KEY facts out of these ten articles, cited his sources, and combined them into “one summarized tell tale article” he quickly found himself having his article deleted/censored and pulled by AC.
Dually noted, that it had been widely reported in other sources. As an author I found nothing wrong with his article, and this sort of thing worries me, that the powers that be can start playing GOD to your original works.
ORIGINAL MEANING you YOUR YOURSELF AND YOU took FACTS, (whether it be news, or local events etc) and turned them into your own article, clearly citing your sources and reporting in your own editorial view or way.
These censors must look at the big picture. If this was the case, no two news stations would be reporting on the Buffalo Plane Crash due to the fact they are similar, and factual, so what makes an article on finance and banking any different?
Here is an example of what worries me. When the powers of be go overboard. Here is a very good example of how they could censor you and snub you IF THEY WANTED TO.
Let’s say my task is to write a story about the plane crash in Buffalo. Heck, I might even be responding to a call for content that others have claimed, so now we are all writing about it. Without even looking I bet there have already been hundreds, no, probably thousands of articles already written on the web or news sites alone. That’s just what I surmised from common sense, the radio, news, newspaper, etc. From the facts given, I bet all the articles report that ice was a factor in the crash, and that there were no survivors. Why? Facts are the facts.
So, if my report was “Plane crashed outside of Buffalo, five miles from airport, no survivors, ice is to blame” I would be worried that that exact one sentence (that I just thought up word for word in my own mind right now I swear…) would somehow be cited as infringement, or plagiarism? It very well could be if someone wanted to really crack down and be a big “censor” or my work and a thorn in my side.
If I said , “According to my local news, the plane crashed outside of Buffalo, …..” would this be the same as infringement when I am citing my sources but my report is eerily familiar to the thousands of other stories out there? Think about it, it sure could. So I could submit my story and get it snubbed as it was “too similar” to others or in reality it could fall under plagiarism without me even realizing it.
Back to news stations -they all run the same NATIONAL BREAKING newsworthy stories. They run the story but put the story into their own words, and then cite their sources. That is what makes good reporting and protects them from legal liability from stealing another’s work. How often have you watched your local news and heard, “This just in from CNN”…but is being reported by your AFG station? Again, a case in point.
So now I worry that before I let my thoughts flow freely from my brain, down my arms and into my fingers and here I am typing away like a fool that I could be UNINTENTIONALLY violating some strange rule of sorts?
What are the odds of billions of posts on the internet at any given second that someone out there is typing what I’m typing now or has seen the national news like I have and is going to report the same opinions as me?
The odds are good. Darn good. In fact, they are really good. Better than a winning lotto ticket. I don’t play, but I hear you have to play to win. I better cite that is the motto of the Maryland Lottery,
“PLAY TO WIN” – Maryland Lottery, forever motto.
There I cited it.
Quite frankly, my point here is if we LOOK hard enough for a topic we are trying to write about, we will find a cited source where it was discussed or it was indeed previously reported.
Why? HELLO! It’s simple. Current events are key, plus the fact the human mind is motivated by certain key topics including these very same news events, science, history, drama, gossip, did I say drama and gossip?
When is the last time you wanted to read an article on the difference and benefits of using a 88 font typeset versus a 99 point typeset over an article on Hollywood Who’s Who gossip? EXACTLY MY POINT.
So, when writing I take the editorial approach and suggest that you do to. Be very careful.
You never want to be looked at as “plagiarizing” someone else’s work. There is a fine line between REPORTING and writing an EDITORIAL or opinions about record breaking news. An editorial is more about your thoughts or your take on the news. After all, you weren’t the one onsite reporting about the burning building when it was burning were you? I would say, “After the local WJZ news reported on the burning building on Fayette street, I found it odd that…….”
The bottom line is easy: the reason plagiarism is such a big stink is because people do it INTENTIONALLY. Not like my colleague who was just reporting news we could use.
People who have no brain at all and can’t think for themselves have nothing better to do than to search the internet and find some reporter in Japan and take his work and report it as their own. Sadly these few “BAD SEEDS” make things hard on the rest of us. Site your sources and never, ever, ever, copy anyone’s work. This is quick career killer. I still am woeful that a news commentator, who worked in Baltimore for YEARS got caught doing just that. Makes you wonder, did he do it just that one time, or was his whole career a joke? Sad for him he’ll never be able to prove if it was the latter.
If per say I came up with a song called Lucy in the Sky with Emeralds, and it was very familiar to the Elton John tune “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (how’s that for an embedded cited source BRAVOooooo!), what would you think? I hope you would know this is NOT JUST A COINCIDENCE; this is indeed a form of plagiarism. However, what if I decided to remix the song, in a funny, quirky way as a joke? This would probably ve viewed as just humor journalism with a side of wackiness .
Coincidences happen and great minds think alike. I always heard the phrase “Here’s news you can use.” I think they should be saying, “Be careful not to use the same news or you may lose……”
AUTHOR NOTE: On a more serious note, legal jeopardy can arise and one mistake can be costly.