Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Does the New York Times Have Trouble with the Word Plagarism?

I am a regular reader of the NYTPicker blog, which covers the good, the bad and the ugly surrounding the Gray Lady. On Feb. 14, the blog mulled the curious case of business reporter Zachery Kouwe after receiving a letter from Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson.

In the letter Thomson said parts of an article written on Feb. 5 by Kouwe were “identical or nearly identical” to an article published by WSJ hours before the NY Times version was printed. After an investigation, Times editors investigated and discovered there were more examples of Kouwe lifting parts from published stories.

On Feb. 15, the NY Times’ Editor’s note acknowledged that Kouwe “appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.” Sounds like plagiarism to me, although that word never appears in the note. When questioned about the status of Kouwe, the paper declined to comment, citing they don’t discuss personnel matters.

Fair enough. But yesterday’s NYTPicker cited a case where Kouwe was condemned for doing something similar in December 2008. So my question is – with all these accusations and pretty substantial proof, why did it take until yesterday for the Times to take action? No, I take that back, because Kouwe ended up resigning yesterday, according to the Times' own story. According to the Times, he was facing “disciplinary action, including dismissal.”

OK, call me cranky, but the first lesson you learn in your journalism class is the definition of plagiarism: “The act of appropriating the literary composition of another author, or excerpts, ideas, or passages therefrom, and passing the material off as one's own creation.” (Cited from The Free Dictionary) And the penalty for plagiarism is immediate firing. Or at least it was back in the day.

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