The Miami Student, a newspaper based at Miami University in Ohio, fired community editor Sammie Miller for plagiarizing in seven articles.
According to the Miami Student’s editor-in-chief Katie Taylor, a reporter tipped the student newspaper off to plagiarism in Miller’s March 10 story “Work-related deaths increase in area” which plagiarized from the Hamilton Journal-News’ Chelsey Levingston.
The Miami Student disclosed the firing and plagiarism in a March 13 news report by Taylor. Levingston was the reporter who alerted the paper to the plagiarism, Taylor told iMediaEthics.
Why plagiarize? Taylor told iMediaEthics by e-mail that Miller claimed she plagiarized because she was stretched too thin.
“Miller had a lot on her plate. With a small staff of sometimes unreliable writers, it’s common for stories to get dropped last minute, which forces the editor to do the reporting and writing themselves,” Taylor wrote. “Miller said she felt overwhelmed by work load and didn’t want to disappoint by coming to production empty-handed.”
The Miami Student is a biweekly “independent, student-run media outlet based in Oxford, Ohio” for Miami University. Its website says it is the “oldest university newspaper in the country, established 1826.”
“Further investigation revealed the editor plagiarized portions of numerous other articles published in The Miami Student since the start of the spring 2015 semester,” Taylor wrote.
In addition to firing Miller, the newspaper published “an official apology to the community” in the print edition and listed the seven articles that contained plagiarism with the names of the outlets that Miller plagiarized. The newspaper also unpublished Miller’s articles that plagiarized.
“We removed the articles after tracking down which ones were plagiarized,” Taylor told iMediaEthics. “We chose not to simply change the credit because the articles were never complete copies of the original stories either,” indicating the articles were only partially copied and pasted from other sources.
The Miami Student called plagiarism “an inexcusable offense” and noted that “Following news of Miller’s actions, the Editorial Board engaged in a lengthy discussion of journalistic ethics to determine how to address the issue and begin to rebuild readers’ trust.”
Taylor further commented to iMediaEthics, “Deciding whether or not to print her name was difficult, but after speaking with the entire staff and asking for outside advice, we decided it was the only way to be completely transparent with our readers and attempt to gain back their trust. Despite her offense, Miller dedicated an extensive amount of time and work to the community section. Though there is no excuse for her actions, she will be missed as a colleague and a friend.”
The Miami Student‘s editorial editors also published an editorial about the plagiarism incident, “Plagiarism at The Miami Student requires action and reflection as we move forward.”
“The Editorial Board is personally shocked and hurt by the individual’s offense, but our concern now has turned to our audience, the community we aim to serve,” the editorial states. “On behalf of the entire staff, we would like to express our deepest apologies. Your trust depends on our credibility, on our ability to seek the truth and present it in a balanced manner. That trust has been shaken.”
The editorial board also apologized to the journalists “whose work was stolen.”
“We don’t want to take credit for the stories in which you put time and effort, those that we did not,” the editorial board said. Further, the editorial board acknowledged that even though Miller was the person who plagiarized, “the mistakes of the individual reflect on the group as a whole.”
“We failed to catch the editor’s actions early on,” the editorial board admitted. “While we cannot undo the mistakes of one, we must work to right these wrongs.
The Miami Student added, “Without upholding our own code of ethics, we are nothing.”
iMediaEthics is trying to locate Miller for comment. As of March 18, she was still listed as the newspaper’s community editor.