REPORTER

Reporter retracts “plagiarized” stories, writer fired, two editors resign

Photo of a Reporter page which says "A Statement From the Editorial Board"Reporter retracted two stories today that it said had been partly plagiarized, according to a statement published in this week’s issue and signed by the magazine’s full Editorial Board. The magazine fired the story’s author, and the section editors responsible for the stories are resigning.

(Full disclosure: I am employed by Reporter as a freelance writer. I worked for the magazine in several capacities since 2007. Infinity Quad is in no way affiliated with Reporter.)

Close on the heels of a debacle ending in censorship, the magazine discovered text which had apparently been copied on a story profiling SportsZone — RIT’s TV sports news program. The discovery came after SportsZone contacted the story’s author, Celine Anderson, a first year journalism student, to complain, according to Alex Rogala, Reporter editor in chief.

Anderson in turn came to the magazine’s editors with the complaint, said Rogala, which is when Reporter discovered the full extent of the problem.

I asked Anderson to comment by phone earlier this evening, but she hasn’t yet.

The story, which is no longer available on Reporter‘s website but is available elsewhere, contains phrases that are nearly identical to a University News story, SportsZone‘s website and a web page for the College Television Awards, according to the statement and my own checks.

In the image below, I’ve highlighted the sections of text which match three or more words from those sources. I’ve blacked out all but a paragraph to avoid infringing copyright. And I’ve included relevant sections from a matched page, which I recommend reading in full.

Text Matches:

University News story

SportsZone “History” page

“About The College Television Awards” page

No apparent match

 

Much of the text that is not a direct match closely paraphrases the matched pages, and most of it is promotional. The four quotes from SportsZone employees in the story do not match any page I could find. Other than the quotes, nothing in the profile is attributed to a source.

After looking at the rest of the writer’s work, the magazine discovered a second story, a guide to “manscaping” for women, also containing what it says was plagiarized content.

When senior editors confronted Anderson, Rogala said, she told them that she had read the pages, but hadn’t tried to copy the text wholesale.

“I believe she said she was unaware it was plagiarism,” said Rogala in a phone interview.

In addition to the accusation of plagiarism, the statement says the SportsZone profile contained a factual error and a misspelled name. It apologizes for breaching reader trust and promises significant change in how the magazine does business.

The magazine’s sports editor, Jeff McKinzie, who edited the profile, and leisure editor, Evan Williams, who edited the manscaping guide, plan to resign as soon as replacements can be found. The magazine’s first choice was to stand by them, said Rogala, but they chose to resign for their own reasons.

“I’m not comfortable putting the blame on one person,” said Rogala. “It was a failure of the entire [editorial] chain.”

Rogala hopes to fix that failure, so a mistake like this doesn’t happen again.

Discussion

  • Ben Hurrrrrr

    Did something just fly out the window? Oh, that must have been Celine Anderson’s career in journalism.

    • Naruandkane

      Hopefully any potential jobs don’t find this when she applies, because she’s never going to get anywhere with this reputation.

  • RIT Student

    Using her name was absolutely unnecessary. It does not make the story more credible or interesting. She was not a top journalist to begin with. She is a first year student trying to learn the field. To publish her name was ridiculous and simply cruel. Please remember that to be a journalist being a monster is not a qualification. 

    • Andy

      Even a first year student should know what constitutes plagiarism. Her name was published in the byline of the article in which she allegedly committed plagiarism. It sucks that she made that mistake so early, but if you’re in college, you should really know better. Aren’t reminders about academic honesty issued at the beginning of every course?

      • RIT Student

        The idea of attribution varies widely from each publication so whats plagiarism may seem very cut and dry but when you are reporting on something that has already been reported it’s not like you get so much new content. 
        Just look at our school. In others self-plagiarism isn’t so demonized. Here you can be expelled for it. I think it’s very easy to assume she should know better but with a topic with so much grey area it’s easy to case unwarranted judgement…

        • Andy

          I’ve done my fair share of reporting and press-release rewrites, and there isn’t much grey area here. When you’re parroting information from an official source, you have two options: paraphrasing it, or quoting it — but always with attribution. For additional guidance, see the AP Stylebook’s section on copyright infringement.

          As for “self-plagiarism,” I don’t believe that term applies. Here, the reporter in question has pilfered language from non-Reporter sources. Whether or not those sources were affiliated with RIT is not important. Reporter, for all of its faults, is expected to act as an independent publication. And its reporters must be held to the same ethical standard as any journalist. She is a journalism major — one would expect that she has taken at least one or two courses in the major, and thus should understand the implications of what she was doing.

          • Concern RIT Student/Journalist

            Firstly, the Reporter doesn’t guide any of the writers when it comes to formatting. While it is said that AP formatting is used, there are many differences in what the Reporter uses and AP dictates.
            Secondly, a large portion of the story is missing. At no time was it mentioned that an email was sent to Celine, very unprofessionally, by the director of SportZone. It also doesn’t mention the fact that she had no reason to assume her article was similar to another article about SportZone. More missing information includes her article going through a total of 4 editors, the fact that many articles in the Reporter fail to cite any source in tr articles themselves, and the lack of interest the Reporter had in taking blame for not properly instructing any writers on the proper format for the paper and citations.
            Recently, the Heads of the magazine have been more worried about covering their own asses than in the fact that the retraction/apology is libelous and can cause more problems for them in the future.
            While Chris isn’t the one to blame for the ill communicated event, posting the writer’s name doe seem a bit far, especially without actually hearing from her. It would be more interesting if her side of the story was told as well as a select few who knows the recently horrid changes that have occurred at the Reporter.
            They can take 3 weeks to train a new editor but can’t take the 3 minutes to show new writers where the Reporter formatting reference page is.

          • Concern RIT Student/Journalist

            Also, the opinion piece that was apparently plagiarized, wasn’t. The supposed “plagiarized” section, which was barely a sentence, was a very common phrase that serves as common knowledge. For those who don’t know, common knowledge doesn’t yielded the need for citation. If it did, every piece of the English language would require citing, dating back to the languages origins.