By Nicole Gennarelli
Jan Leach, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, helped write a digital newsbook titled “Telling the Truth and Nothing But” about plagiarism and fabrication produced and released by the National Summit to Fight Plagiarism and Fabrication.
Craig Silverman, the award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, started the idea for the book last summer when he wrote about incidences of journalistic plagiarism. His article on Poynter Online asked senior newsroom employees about the incidents but he received no response. From his frustration, he wrote “Journalism’s Summer of Sin marked by plagiarism, fabrication, obfuscation” and said that newsroom employees are unwilling to acknowledge and take responsibility for this problem. According to the article, Silverman suggested “journalism’s leading professional organizations have their ethics committees (and/or boards) look at this issue, gather what material and policies they have, and determine what guidance they can offer to newsrooms.” Teresea Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editors Society, responded to his post agreeing with the need for high-level analysis of plagiarism. From that, the book project became a reality.
“I think members of the Summit, including everybody who participated and the sponsoring organizations, realized how urgent this issue is because there were and are so many high-profile instances of plagiarism and fabrication,” Leach said. “All these cases chip away at journalism’s credibility.”
Schmedding contacted Leach last year to ask her to contribute to the digital newsbook. Three committees were created and each was assigned a specific part of the book to complete. The three sections are: “Defining the Problem,” “Preventing Infractions” and “Responding to the Inevitable.” Leach was part of the definitions committee along with Henry Fuhrman, Los Angeles Times chairman; Maria Cianci, Yahoo.com; Pam Fine, University of Kansas; Dylan Smith, Lion Publishers/TucsonSentinel.com; Mark Willis, Sirius SM Satellite radio and Stacey Woelfels, University of Missouri. The definitions committee wrote part of the book’s introduction, plus Chapter 2 “Defining the Problem,” and various parts of the report.
“We did individual research, wrote and edited specific parts of the chapter and collected material and resources. There was a lot of sharing and talking. We had a very tight deadline because we started work in December and turned everything in for compilation and editing in February,” Leach said. “I’m also quoted in Chapter 3 about who plagiarizes or fabricates. For that part of the report, I was interviewed via email by Patrick Smith of the Omaha World-Herald, another participant on a different committee.”
Leach believes this book is a useful tool for many types of authors.
“The book should be a useful tool for editors, educators and everybody who collects information for distribution,” Leach said. “It’s a practical guide with specific examples and prescriptive examples to avoid plagiarism.”