What else is there to say about plagiarism? Everyone in a university environment hears a lot about it, from mentions on syllabi, to the unfortunate editorials that follow incidents of plagiarism in the school newspaper.
Well, here we are again, with nothing new to say. So let’s start with the facts.
On May 10, it came to the Mustang Daily’s attention that movie columnist Alex Petrosian had been passing off other movie reviewers’, namely Roger Ebert’s, work as his own. While it is unclear how much Petrosian took, a glance at his work for the past year-and-a-half will reveal uncanny similarities with Ebert’s in dozens of columns.
After several members of the staff read them, the Mustang Daily gave the columns of question, along with copies of Ebert’s columns for the same movies to three independent sources, in order to determine if plagiarism had transpired. Each reviewer reported it had. The independent input of three different parties leaves no doubt in our minds that plagiarism occurred. While there are some sections of articles that are undeniably lifted from other reviewer’s work, some mirror the same spirit and tone of Ebert’s review.
“I think, probably, the biggest underlying issue here is that your reviewer is reading other people’s work before sitting down to write his/her own,” associate professor Doug Swanson said. “That’s a problem. If I read your work on a particular subject and then sit down to write my own — how can I possibly be independent? Your work is ‘in my head’ and it’s going to affect the written copy I create.”
In discussions with the staff and in his editorial, Petrosian claims any similarities between his and Ebert’s columns were unintentional. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. The burden of triple-checking work and avoiding easy mistakes lies with the writer and secondly, the editors. While editors trust that their writers produce original work, it shouldn’t be assumed. It shouldn’t take a reader to point out a writer’s mistakes. Even with no bad intentions, plagiarism reflects a shortcoming on the part of the writer and the editor.
So this is our apology for our shortcoming.
The Mustang Daily staff is embarrassed and disappointed. We take pride in publishing a nationally-recognized daily collegiate newspaper that holds itself to high ethical standards elicited by the Society of Professional Journalists. We are doing our best to ensure an incident of this nature doesn’t happen again through random plagiarism checks and more vigilant editing.
Petrosian will no longer write for the Mustang Daily nor will his work remain on the website. Instead, this editorial will be posted as an apology to our readers, a reminder that plagiarism happens and that writers and editors should carefully review each story before publishing.