PaidContent has an interesting piece on another plagiarism kerfuffle in the news lately, as a columnist from one newspaper used verbatim quotes from someone else without crediting them for it, and the editors of the plagiarizing writer’s paper posted an apology that many felt wasn’t sincere enough. But the interesting part to me isn’t the plagiarism.
Late in the article is a link to a four-page Greg Beato piece in Reason Magazine discussing the democratization of fact-checking in the modern age. Providing numerous examples, Beato posits that we are “living in a golden age of fact-checking,” but instead of that happening before publishing, the burden has been shifted to afterward thanks to all the numerous informational resources that are out there at the public’s disposal, and the thousands upon thousands of netizens who are happy to put in some of their spare time doing the legwork.
And Beato doesn’t even bring up tools like Turnitin, the plagiarism checker which can check submissions against hundreds of thousands of web documents. Really, we have some amazing tools, and a lot of them are thanks to the same revolutions in information presentation that have brought us the digital reading devices we use every day. Search engines. Google Books. On-line article archives.
Of course, some of these tools are a double-edged sword. Turnitin can be used by plagiarists to help them conceal evidence of their borrowing, after all. But it seems that this is only important in the world of college students, because so many newspaper columnists think so little of it that they don’t bother to try.
One thing I’m curious about, though, is whether this plagiarism really is more widespread in the digital world, or simply more likely to get caught by the resources we now have. Were newspaper writers doing this same sort of thing before the Internet came about, and just not noticed as much because we didn’t have the resources to find the borrowing?