Advice for Gerald Posner on ‘plagiarism’ and his resignation from The Daily Beast
I’m sad to hear that Gerald Posner is departing the Daily Beast. He wrote good stories, and it’s never a good thing when good journalists back away from a medium that will be more important to the future of news than the old media in which they got their start.
In the hopes that Posner’s departure from the Internet will be shorter and not longer, I wanted to share a quick thought about this blog post where he announces his resignation from Tina Brown’s web magazine:
I realize how it is that I have inadvertently, but repeatedly, violated my own high standards. The core of my problem was in shifting from that of a book writer – with two years or more on a project – to what I describe as the “warp speed of the net.” For the Beast articles, I created master electronic files, which contained all the information I developed about a topic – that included interviews, scanned documents, published articles, and public information. I often had master files that were 15,000 words, that needed to be cut into a story of 1,000 to 1500 words.
In the compressed deadlines of the Beast, it now seems certain that those master file were a recipe for disaster for me. It allowed already published sources to get through to a number of my final and in the quick turnaround I then obviously lost sight of the fact that it belonged to a published source instead of being something I wrote.
Again, the accuracy of my reporting stands in these articles. And in the meantime I again apologize to all my readers, as well as to the editors and my colleagues at The Daily Beast. I will be returning to my next book project, and several documentaries on which I am working. I shall not be doing journalism on the internet until I am satisfied that I can do so without violating my own standards and the basic rules of journalism.
It’s strange in a way to hear Posner faulting the ‘warp speed of the net’ (alongside himself) for his missteps. I might argue that his real problem was that he was not abiding enough by the habits of the blogosphere on the Internet, and this was a cause of his difficulties.
There have been a number of big plagiarism scandals in the years that I’ve been a working journalist. But few notable incidents have involved writers whose primary method of communication is blogging.
There’s a good reason for that: bloggers tend to openly quote one another, as well as news stories written by journalists from traditional outlets, quite freely. Too freely in many instances, and that’s why we get into conflicts with one another sometimes about the fair use of text that we clip. Perhaps, for instance, Posner could take issue with the amount of text I copied from his blog post above. But he couldn’t accuse me of plagiarizing him – I’m quoting him, clearly citing the source, and linking back to him.
If you turn into the sort of character who steals too much from your sources without saying enough on your own, you might develop a reputation for being more of an aggregator than a blogger. You might also get shamed by your source (see ‘Grand Theft Huffpo‘). You could even get sued. Or, your audience may just tune out because people would rather stick to the sources you rip.
But you’ll seldom get called a ‘plagiarist.’
The reason bloggers don’t often plagiarize is that we don’t need to. We can make a point by piggy-backing off of factual statements or opinions from others, and easily make it clear that we didn’t say it first. If Posner had simply hyperlinked back to his sources in his Daily Beast stories – a process that I suspect is much more quick and easy to carry out than copying, pasting, and re-writing bits of the source material – we probably wouldn’t be talking about ‘Gerald Posner, Plagiarist’ now.
So, old media reporters in transition, remember that it’s easier than ever to not inadvertently plagiarize, if you act more like bloggers instead of capital J journalists.