Plagiarism

When you plagiarize, you violate two of the most important standards we uphold as journalists: honesty and accuracy. This document is to help you understand the Cronkite School’s standard on plagiarism and what is expected of you as a Cronkite student.

Plagiarism consists of using someone else’s words, phrases, sentences or ideas without giving credit. This is true whether you do it intentionally or inadvertently.

Students most often get into trouble when they cut and paste information from the Internet. There are two main ways to avoid this and other kinds of plagiarism:

  1. Quote and attribute. Use the exact words in quotation marks and include who said it or wrote it.
  2. Paraphrase and attribute: Use your own words, but still include who said it or wrote it.

To use an example: You are writing a story about local reaction to the U.S. build-up of troops in Iraq. During your research, you find the following sentence in a New York Times story:

The decision to increase the American military presence in Iraq is being greeted with a blend of optimism and anxiety among American soldiers and their families, those most directly affected by the change.

You want to use this information in your story, so you:

  1. Cut and paste the sentence into your story as is. You write: The decision to increase the American military presence in Iraq is being greeted with a blend of optimism and anxiety among American soldiers and their families, those most directly affected by the change. You have plagiarized because you have stolen the idea and the words.
  2. Use the sentence as is, but attribute it to a report in the New York Times. You write: The decision to increase the American military presence in Iraq is being greeted with a blend of optimism and anxiety among American soldiers and their families, those most directly affected by the change, according to the New York Times. You still have plagiarized because you did not put quotes around the words, which are not your own.
  3. Put quotes around the sentence and attribute it to a report in the New York Times. You write: “The decision to increase the American military presence in Iraq is being greeted with a blend of optimism and anxiety among American soldiers and their families, those most directly affected by the change,” the New York Times said.  This isn’t good journalism because you should do your own reporting, but at least it’s not plagiarism because you have quoted and attributed the information.
  4. Paraphrase the sentence in your own words and attribute it to the New York Times. You write: American soldiers and their families have mixed feelings about sending more soldiers to Iraq, according to the New York Times. This isn’t good journalism because you should do your own reporting, but at least it’s not plagiarism because you did not steal the words and you attributed the source.

In general, there are only three circumstances under which a journalist does not have to provide attribution:

  • Common knowledge: When information is commonly known to a majority of people, you don’t have to attribute it. Examples include: The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001; Janet Napolitano is the governor of Arizona.
  • Background information: When information is undisputed factually and is available from a wide variety of reliable sources, you don’t have to attribute it. For example: Dennis Erickson, who took over as ASU’s head football coach in December, has 18 years of coaching experience, including six seasons in the NFL.
  • Observation: When you witness something first hand, you don’t have to attribute the information. For example, if you are covering a protest and you see that passing motorists are honking and waving in support of the protestors, you can report that without quoting anyone or attributing the information to another source.

Attributing information from press releases:
Press releases are a common way for journalists to get information. A good reporter will use the press release as a starting point, going on to do his own reporting and gathering his own quotes.  If you do use information from a press release, however, the rules of attribution apply.

Example: Gov. Janet Napolitano has issued a press release stating that she plans to expand a low-cost state health insurance program to help thousands of middle-class families pay for health care for their children. The press release includes the following quote:

“We owe it to our children to do better,” Napolitano said. “We owe it to their future.”

You have been unable to reach the governor for a quote, so you:

  1. Use the excerpt as is. You have misled your readers into thinking that Napolitano spoke these words to you.
  2. Paraphrase the excerpt, writing: Napolitano said the measure is necessary for the future of the state’s children. You still are being dishonest about the source of the information.
  3. Use the excerpt but disclose the source: “We owe it to our children to do better. We owe it to their future,” Napolitano said in a prepared statement. This is better. You have told your readers that the information came from a written statement from the governor’s office.

Using email information:
It’s always better to interview someone in person or, if that’s not possible, by phone. In an email interview, there’s the potential that the subject isn’t who he or she says he or she is and the reporter has much less control over the interview. Moreover, the way someone writes something is rarely the way he or she would speak it. In the event that you have no other choice but to do an email interview, you must disclose that fact to your readers.

Example: You are doing a story about an ASU professor who is developing a new, powerful telescope to be used in space. The professor, James Rhoads, is available only through email. You ask him to explain his research and he writes:

The telescope will collect data, hopefully leading to discoveries about the expansion of the universe.
In your story, you:

  1. Quote the professor as follows: “The telescope will collect data, hopefully leading to discoveries about the expansion of the universe,” Rhoads said. You have misled your readers into thinking that Rhoads spoke these words to you.
  2. Quote the professor, but specify that it was through email: “The telescope will collect data, hopefully leading to discoveries about the expansion of the universe,” Rhoads said in an email interview. This is better. You have specified that the communication was written, not spoken.

Attributing information in the text of the story:
It’s important that when you use information from a source in a story, the attribution follows immediately.

Example: You are doing a travel story on Bisbee, Arizona. You find the following information on the Bisbee website:

Old miners’ boarding houses have been refurbished into many charming small bed and breakfast establishments, of which no two are alike. Former saloons are now quaint shops, antique stores or art galleries, cafes and restaurants.

In your story you paraphrase the information: Bisbee is known for old miners’ boarding houses that have been turned into bed and breakfasts and saloons that have become shops, art galleries and eating establishments. You include a textbox with your story that includes the website www.bisbeearizona.com. This is not sufficient. You must attribute the information to the website immediately after the reference: Bisbee is known for old miners’ boarding houses that have been turned into bed and breakfasts and saloons that have become shops, art galleries and eating establishments, according to the website, Bisbeearizona.com. If you use information from the website later in the story, you must attribute it to the website again.