Stunned. Shocked. SMH. WTF. These overused terms may have lost their potency, but it is still possible to experience the sensations they describe on a gut level. Last weekend, we did, in ways that are still unfolding.
We found out that bylined sports articles in the Union and presented as original work have included plagiarized content.
A lot of it.
Overall, the stolen verbiage holds many of the classic characteristics of plagiarism we’ve seen in other high-profile instances in newspapers, books, even in academia and science. Content was clearly copied from other news sources, modified and masked to varying degrees (or not at all) using a variety of tactics, then presented to the editors as original material and dutifully published in the Union.
Several stories were lightly rewritten with word substitutions and rephrasings. Some sentences were somewhat truncated or extended and interspersed with direct lifts from bylined, even copyrighted sports stories available online.
In one typical instance, the original writer’s use of the word “bookended” was replaced with “sandwiched” in otherwise identical text.
Other times the stories have some possibly original introductory verbiage that gives way to a near-verbatim story published earlier by another publication.
Make no mistake: this lapse is the responsibility of the editors and publishers of the Union. Thus:
• We apologize first to anyone who purchased or subscribed to the newspaper for passing off recycled content as our own.
• We’ve notified and apologized to the writers and organizations from whom Union content was stolen.
• We’ll continue to review published stories for further instances of plagiarism, and will make further acknowledgments as they may arise.
• Other than unalterable PDF files, all content by our former sports editor has been removed from our website.
Of course we’re are appalled that our newspaper has been a vehicle for intellectual theft. One can imagine the horror and dismay. Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine this. You can bet we’ll be more vigilant henceforth, because it turns out this kind of thing really happens.
But how did it happen? Our guard was down. You just don’t expect outright deception on this scale after extending trust, and seemingly enjoying common goals and principles. With a sigh, we do now.
Union readers well know the extraordinary lengths to which we go to cultivate fresh, local writing with all its charms and constraints. It was only a matter of time before we discovered this blatant malpractice, and we only wish we (or anyone) had done so much earlier.
There have been plagiarized submissions before, and we’ve been relieved to filter them out pre-publication. Bogus bits have indeed gotten through, though never to this extent, and not internally.
Our challenge now is to continue to use our resources to remain open and available to all – even to the level of reformatting the newspaper to accommodate a new idea, as we did with the now-suspended Sports section – while not ending up paying for and passing along plagiarized content.
Never hesitate to share your criticism, advice and ideas, because as long as we do this, that’s what keeps the newspaper interesting and relevant. We’re holding out hope that one day we can again offer that mainstay of small-town newspapers, a Sports section.
We hope that you, our readers, will continue to enjoy the Union as a source of original, community-oriented journalism.
The editors and staff of the Mad River Union