Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sent Down

The thing about keeping a Journalism All-Star Team is that it's not a Hall of Fame. Being added to the team can't be a permanent thing, just like any all-star team. Just because Ryan Braun is an all-star one year doesn't mean he's going to be on every all-star team the rest of his career.

We've dropped two names from the team before- Jim Lehrer retired, and we put Shepard Smith on a 'disabled list' until such time as he leaves Fox News. But this is the first time we've kicked someone out on their own merit.

I didn't expect it to be Fareed Zakaria, and I certainly didn't expect it to be on a plagiarism charge, which Zakaria now has on his record. He is serving out a one-month suspension after lifting passages from an article on gun control by Jill Lepore of the New Yorker, slightly altering the wording, and placing them into his own article for Time. One example is shown in the link.

(The remaining people on the team, just as a reminder: Bob Ley, Matt Taibbi, Sanjay Gupta, Jon Stewart, Christiane Amanpour, Rachel Maddow, Andrew Sullivan, Gwen Ifill, Louis Theroux, Laura Ling,
Mariana van Zeller, Anderson Cooper, Jeremy Schaap, Lisa Ling, Nate Silver, Stephen Colbert, Soledad O'Brien, and Kaj Larsen.)

Plagiarism is a cardinal sin in the industry. Heck, in any creative work. You simply don't swipe someone else's creation and call it your own. Comedians aren't supposed to steal jokes, artists aren't supposed to forge paintings, and writers don't swipe someone else's writing without attribution.

Because Zakaria has to this point been a highly-respected journalist, there have been those rushing to his defense, saying that it's the result of taking on so much work. Taking on that much work is his choice. An increased workload is not an excuse to let standards slip. It's always worth taking the extra time to make sure what you're putting out is quality, and more to the point, your own. If you can't improve on how someone else said something, that's fine. Just quote them and give credit where credit is due.

A lesser journalist would see their career come to an immediate and screeching halt over a plagiarism charge. Zakaria, presuming that we don't find a whole bunch of other plagiarized material when the inevitable examining of previous works takes place (one additional charge was levied, but falsely so), can still pull it back and recover. I hope he does.

But for a smart man, this was really, really stupid.

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