The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

An insight into plagiarism

A piece in the Romenesko Forums by one Bruce Bartlett (6/29/2004 3:57:36 PM) connects some dots fairly persuasively. He fingers as a contributory factor
the methodology of the news business, which puts a premium on "reporting," by which I mean the publication or broadcast of original information that has not appeared in print or on air elsewhere. All reporters are pressured to get "scoops."

The paradigm of the scoop would be a story that no other outlet had got hold of. The reality is that, for most journos, such stories are very much the exception. But - and is this some bizarre extension of the Frontier Mentality, the notion of a limitless tract of terra nullius open to the homesteader who stakes his claim? - the journo has to behave as if he is broaching virgin territory, even if he's part of a hundred-strong press pack.

Bartlett says
reporters are loath to admit that someone else got there first. So when they are beaten to the punch, they only grudgingly will cite another paper as the original source. Instead, they will call the person or organization that made the news and ask all the same questions all over again, and then write a story completely ignoring the earlier publication. Since they talked directly to the source, reporters can pretend that they did "reporting." Very, very seldom are significant new details uncovered this way. More often than not, they just end up with quotes that are worded slightly differently.

He points out an allied problem with opinion polling:
Since they are loath to mention polls by competing organizations, the result is that the same exact questions get asked every day. This almost never yields useful information since there is inevitable noise in polling that causes results to differ even when the underlying facts have not changed. As a consequence, polls are almost never used to ask interesting new questions that would yield genuinely new information. Instead, we get the same presidential approval numbers day after day that tell us virtually nothing.

He suggests [1]
If reporters behaved more like academics, who love to cite their sources, they would be more willing to acknowledge where they got information, instead of pretending that they uncovered it themselves.

Bloggers do it: why not regular journalists?

This is, I fear, on a par with old Dan Okrent's plea last Sunday (June 28) for a self-denying ordinance on anonymous quotes: a thoroughly sound idea with no chance of realisation.

  1. I somehow hear Rex Harrison (from the truly execrable flick My Fair Lady) with why can't a woman be more like a man? The drutherfulness level is similar!

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