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Even as old-school print newspapers are updating business plans and trying to find ways to attract new readers to their Internet home pages, a critical mass inside and outside the Fourth Estate is also demanding that they maintain policies that protect  the profession’s founding tenets of “integrity and credibility”.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Ethics Committee’s inquiry, a letter of contrition written by The Hartford Courant’s director of content admitted that the paper ran stories without citing original sources from local papers and promised “the mistake won’t be repeated”.

“However it happened, the Courant violated fundamental standards,” said Andy Schotz, the chairman of SPJ’s Ethics Committee. “This was theft.”

The Courant, described as the “oldest newspaper of continuous publication in the United States” on SPJ’s website, set off alarms by rehashing several stories already published in other Connecticut newspapers and not linking to or citing the original source.

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Why are hard news reporters working under some prima facie notion that a story is up for grabs if followed up with a little extra reportage and slant to be born again without a nod to the original? That thinking is finally meeting its true crucible. One could blame cutbacks in the newsroom that have severely restricted the reach of beat reporters, forcing them to turn to mining blogs for scoops. Maybe it can be attributed to laziness, or perhaps even to honest mistakes. Whatever the causes, rules are there for a reason and if newspapers want to prevail they must take a hard look at their policies and practices.

The committee’s review of the Courant ordeal is exhorting the paper to wise-up in the future. The SPJ noted, “Many media outlets aggregate information online, summarizing a story and then linking to the original. The Courant failed to carry the credit from its online version to its print version.”

Surely, the Courant doesn’t stand alone in omitting credit in its pages. But the paper’s vow to prevent repeating this mistake should make their competitors stand up and notice, and take steps to avoid similar embarrassments in the future.


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Hartford Courant censured by ethics committee for failing to cite sources

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