Creating Journalists at Emmanuel College

A guide for ENGL 2501 and ENGL 3801

Plagiarism: The unforgivable sin

CentralMassNews.com's unofficial mascot. Don;t make me give you this look. Photo by Jennifer Lord Paluzzi

CentralMassNews.com’s unofficial mascot. Photo by Jennifer Lord Paluzzi

When I was putting together the syllabi for my two journalism classes at Emmanuel, I wrote the section on plagiarism first. I called it “career suicide for a journalist.”

Our class speaker this Wednesday knows this first-hand.

Ken Powers spent 20 years at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette covering sports and covering it well. He knew the phone numbers of every high school sports coach in Central Mass., the stats for every team and had worked his way up to a coveted spot: beat reporter for the New England Patriots, just when Super Bowls were becoming routine.

He was actually in Jacksonville, Fla., preparing for Super Bowl XXXIX, when he was told to return home. At a time when every sports journalist in the country was looking for something besides another taciturn statement from Bill Belichick,  Powers provided a morality tale: a column he had written contained passages similar to one written by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and further investigation found other instances of questionable material.

Here is Peter King’s column. Powers’ column is here: Ken story

I’ll let Powers — full disclosure, he did work for me at CentralMassNews.com, I credit him for making the first year of CentralMassFootball.com a success and yes, I consider him a friend — talk about what happened next in class. This will actually be the first time he’s spoken about “the incident” in public. But I want to also put what happened in context.

In 1998, the Boston Globe fired columnist Patricia Smith for fabricating material and demanded — and received — the resignation of star columnist Mike Barnicle for both fabricating and plagiarizing material. The Globe, like the T&G, was owned by the New York Times, which in 2003 faced a writing scandal of its own: reporter Jayson Blair was found to have made up, plagiarized and lied his way through multiple stories (if you have the time, read the Timesexhaustive eight-page story on its internal scandal, which I remember reading in a newsroom filled with reporters murmuring “oh my god, did you read this part yet?”).

What happened to Blair? Various media reports have him working as a life coach; he periodically pops up, controversially, as a speaker on ethics. Barnicle, however, continues to find work as a regular for MSNBC and various publications.

What’s that, you say? I’ve forgotten the notorious case of Stephen Glass? His fabrication of stories for the New Republic continues to follow him: he’s been rejected by the California Bar, who says his past  makes him “morally unfit” to practice law.

Emmanuel students: consider Wednesday’s class a press conference. You will be taking notes for a story on your blogx), utilizing the 5Ws in your lead, and will need to write down quotes. Notebooks will be needed, laptops are encouraged if that is how you best take notes. You will also be live-Tweeting, using a hashtag I will give in class, and students in Writing for Electronic Media will use Storify to re-purpose those Tweets.

Everyone is expected to ask questions. Your stories are due, on your blogs, by 5 p.m. Friday, between 200 to 400 words. Embed your live-Tweets in your story. I’m doing this a little early in the semester so please, talk to me in class, during office hours or via email if you have any questions.

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This entry was posted on January 28, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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