That's what happened two weeks ago when one of Britain's top newspapers, The Daily Mail, lifted entire sections of a story that ran only four days earlier in The New York Times.
In our "Age of Information," how could any journalist be deluded enough to think they could get away with plagiarism of that scale? Google Alerts, hello?
The original Daily Mail rip-off had the byline not of an ambitious rookie journalist looking to make a quick splash in her career, but of a seasoned reporter for the paper -- which makes the move even more astounding. If ever a journalist was considering cut-and-paste "reporting," the last place I would recommend for material is The New York Times. Not that I am recommending doing that at all.
Copying Is Not A Form of Flattery
The Daily Mail is known for being a fairly shameless and down-market news outlet (a recent headline on the home page of its MailOnline.com screamed "Pregnant wife tried to abort her love rival's baby by tricking her into taking abortion pills"). It's hardly surprising, then, that the paper's standards were rather lax about the blatant copyfest. Still, it did attempt some damage control by taking a proverbial machete to its "original" story -- taking out the many passages cribbed from the NYT, attributing the story to a nameless "Daily Mail Reporter" and throwing a correction at the bottom reading: "An earlier version of this article was mistakenly attributed to the writer Liz Thomas. We regret that a revised version of the article also failed to attribute the source to the New York Times." Thanks so much for the clarification; now we understand the, um, oversight?
Whether it was Thomas, the faceless "Daily Mail Reporter," or the man on the moon, however, it still remains a colossal misjudgment and an inconceivable mental lapse.
Cut, Paste And Plagiarize
Of course, The Daily Mail's plagiarism hardly sets a precedent: think back to the scandals surrounding Jayson Blair, Steve Erlanger and Michael Finkel in the last decade. I am certain that plagiarism will continue for a long as we survive as a species. What The Daily Mail story highlights, however, is that the reality of feeding our daily news beast is becoming an increasingly hard one. There are deadlines to be met, many interviews to be juggled, facts to be checked, editors to be argued with, creativity and critical thinking to be found, and simply not enough time to humanly do all these tasks.
And let's not forget the race to post content almost every second of the day and night.
The temptation must be overwhelming, to be sure.
And this is exactly where PR should be stepping up its game. Our role as PR experts is to ply our journalist allies with an abundance of compelling stories, sources and data -- readily available and verified for immediate use. Story ideas and pitches that can be turned into bylined articles with relative ease. I'm not saying that we should be doing all the work for reporters, but we should be making the connection to new, fresh and ongoing content a lot easier for them. That's what our clients pay us for, after all -- to connect their stories with media.
We should be making journalists' lives easier by giving them exactly what they need, when they need it. There's no need for them to copy each other's stories if we can deliver fantastic copy and brilliant ideas to them -- don't you agree?
So I'm going to write to The Daily Mail and offer my services in plagiarism prevention. Perhaps that's another spin for the PR profession?