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Should We Treat the Globe and Mail as a Cheating Student?

09/24/2012 07:23 EDT | Updated 11/24/2012 05:12 EST
HuffPost Canada

In a remarkable reply to the detailed allegations against Margaret Wente for repeated plagiarism, the Globe and Mail has shown itself to be unequal to the tasks associated with running a national newspaper.

In short, basic journalistic integrity at the Globe is dead. Gone. It has "flown the coop, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible."

The problems with the reply by the Globe's public editor Sylvia Stead are numerous. The largest issue is that Stead fails to address the fact that Wente used a paragraph, almost identical to one written by Dan Gardner, after removing the quotation marks. In short she passed off observations of another as her own. This is plagiarism. Period. Full stop.

As an educator, I know something about this stuff. I see it often. I have argued it is a function both of the technological ease of copying and pasting, and the fact that we simply do not teach students what plagiarism is, why it matters, and how it can be avoided. For three years now, I have been using a version of the quiz provided here to try to assist my students.

But what about columnists and journalists? As HuffPost has pointed out this has been quite a summer for journalistic ethics. Fareed Zakaria and Jonah Lehrer have both been investigated and were both suspended, although Zakaria has since been reinstated at CNN. In the U.S., journalists and media companies take this stuff seriously.

In Canada? Crickets. The silence on this issue has been deafening. Few journalists have expressed an opinion on the matter, and no mainstream brick and mortar newspapers have covered it. Why you ask? According to Sabrina Maddeaux: "Everyone is scared shitless."

So what might be done? Since, as Maddeaux points out, copy editors and fact-checkers are all but extinct in Canada's lame stream media, perhaps you and I can assist. I propose a project organized through kickstarter or some similar organization to raise enough money to buy a subscription to TurnItIn. The Globe and Mail cannot be the only Canadian publication with a plagiarism problem and this project will assist by providing access to a useful tool to identify the number of cut and paste jobs (past and present) presented as original work. Imagine how pleased Canada's illustrious media will be!

Working together we can use TurnItIn's OriginalityCheck and help the media do its job. It's easy -- copy and paste questionable text into the space provided, the program compares the submitted text against a text comparison database and presents an originality index so anyone can see how much of a journalist's or columnist's work is original.

What say you? Shall we crowdsource the Globe's plagiarism problem?