News broke last week that Fareed Zakaria, multimedia columnist for CNN, The Washington Post and Time magazine, plagiarized the work of New Yorker writer Jill Lepore in a recent Time column on gun control.
Even if you're not familiar with this name, chances are you know Zakaria's work if you follow politics in national media at all. He's one of those media superstars who seemingly churns out gobs of smart, intellectual copy in every medium weekly, prodding even those who don't drink the same flavor of Kool-Aid to mull over his arguments.
As of press time, Zakaria had been suspended from all of his regular gigs, pending reviews of his work, and he's offered a brief apology accepting the blame entirely. However, new questions have also been raised, including a charge that Zakaria lifted a quote that appears in his book The Post-American World. In an interview with the Post earlier this week, Zakaria defended himself, saying that particular practice is quite common.
But does that make it OK? Regular Citydesk readers will notice that we often publish posts with headlines that begin "Press-Tribune Report" or "Report from Times-News." We'll publish a few sentences that sum up another outlet's story, attribute the reporting to them and kick in some link love to drive readers to the original report. It's good for the original reporting outlet's traffic, and it's good for our readers. Several local blogs take this approach, sometimes linking back to Boise Weekly stories.
What I've been noticing lately, however, is what I refer to as subtle content theft. For example, I've written more than one email to reporters at a local television station after it has hopped on a Boise Weekly story--the kind that originated from good, old-fashioned, source-working reporting--and broken it as its own without any attribution to our story.
And then there's the online theft. We've threatened legal action against one magazine, which ironically likes to sell itself as the newer, better version of us, for posting the work of our writers as though it were its own, a violation of not only journalistic ethics but also copyright infringement.
On the other hand, I've personally thanked Boise State Public Radio News Director Sadie Babits for attributing stories to us that show up on air.
Zakaria's plagiarism cannot be tolerated, but is his lack of attribution a gray area? Guess that depends on who you ask.