Petula Dvorak and Plagarism

A common practice in the print media before the Information Age was:  if you gave anything to a reporter they could put their name on it and say they were the ones who did the work and had the idea.

All that is over now, of course.  Most people get their news from Facebook and Reddit.

But old ideas die hard, it seems.  Reddit user KATSUICHI observed recently that Petula Dvorak is trolling Reddit threads for her column in the Washington Post.  

Accusation aside, reporters who lift information, or quotes, or ideas from Reddit without attribution are plagiarizing.  I know, it is what has always been done.  Power of the pen, and all that.  Words in a newspaper have led to big changes in our world since our country was founded.  A watchdog media is part of our democracy, and any attack on independent media in other countries is seen as a rise in authoritarianism. Not going to argue that point.

But all the while, it really has been "power of the printing press."  Writers, alone their garrets, do not influence government and laws.  People need to be able to read what is written.  They need to be moved by the words.  They need to read them in the first place.  It may be one of the reasons for the squeals of rage from the mainstream media:  loss of power. News organizations were the gatekeepers of what people knew and believed.  

Now everybody has a printing press, and taking ideas from people isn't seamless and invisible.  

Being "qualified" to be a reporter for the Washington Post no longer means accomplished and special.  Petula Dvorak's actions demonstrate that it probably never did.  She "trawls," in the words of KATSUICHI, for ideas, rewrites them, and presents them as her own.  Plagiarism.  It's been going on for over a century.

When I wrote for Georgetown & Country,  a local paper centered on Georgetown happenings in the Nineties, a Washington Post reporter phoned our garden editor and asked that our paper be sent to her each month "because we have such good ideas for stories."  No attempt at hiding a bald intent to steal ideas.  Why would she?  It is how things were done, prior to the Internet.  Our garden editor refused and hung up.

The Washington Post is no stranger to plagiarism scandals.  It's only a suggestion, but now would be the time to update your policies on that, before another kerfluffle forces it.

No comments: