Ouch! Michigan Editor Plagiarizes former Intern, apologizes

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(Credit: Washington Examiner, screenshot)

The Oakland Press, a Michigan newspaper, apologized to the Washington Examiner after plagiarizing from it. The Oakland Press is a daily newspaper with a circulation of about 65,000, Mondo Times reports.

Making matters worse, Oakland Press executive editor Glenn Gilbert knew the person whose work he lifted, Zack Colman. “To add insult to injury, Colman once interned under Gilbert,” the Examiner wrote.

The Oakland Press article, by Gilbert, was titled “Public needs to know who opposes wind tax credit.”  According to the Washington Examiner, Gilbert stole five paragraphs from a Dec. 6 story, “Lawmakers look to end wind energy credits.”

Gilbert’s article “used verbatim” the material without any credit to the Examiner and later added “some attributions,” but no quotation marks, according to the Examiner. As evidence, the Examiner published a side-by-side comparison showing what content the Oakland Press lifted. Gilbert disputed this to iMediaEthics and e-mailed us what he said was the original article, which does credit the Examiner by name. “I think there was a report that the column originally had no attribution,” Gilbert told us. “That is false.”

A side-by-side comparison of the two articles, created by the Washington Examiner. (Credit: Examiner, screenshot)

Besides the plagiarism, the Examiner complained that Gilbert wouldn’t apologize publicly.  At first, Gilbert told the Examiner “you’re not going to get an apology” and that he “thought [he] followed the rules,” citing fair use, the Examiner reported.

Gilbert told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “I offered to apologize to the writer. I objected to a published apology because I thought it was an unfair request.”

After publication of the incident, Gilbert apologized publicly. So what changed?  “What changed my mind was the degree to which they were offended and the fact that I felt it was the best way to end a dispute,” Gilbert told us.

The Oakland Press article now carries a note saying

“An earlier version of this column included information from a Washington Examiner report. Although the Examiner was clearly credited as the source, the publication objected to the use of the information and felt it should have been paraphrased. Our intention was not to slight the Examiner’s contribution and we regret any inappropriate attribution.”

Gilbert tried to explain away the plagiarism to Poynter. He defended his attribution, arguing that he did say he named the material’s source as the Examiner. “I define plagiarism as claiming material as your own when it is not — basically the failure to attribute.” He went on, “I used three separate attributions as sources of my material, and verified its accuracy from other sources. Except for one paragraph, I feel it is clear to the reader the material is from the Examiner, and is mostly statement of established fact.”

That excuse was given to iMediaEthics earlier this year. Former Deseret News intern Michael Smith said he didn’t know proper attribution standards. After iMediaEthics pointed out questionable attribution in Smith’s work, the Deseret News discovered that 40 of his 76 stories had “attribution errors.” Smith told us at the time:

“I made sure to put in my story that the information was reported by whoever reported it. For instance, I would write, ‘According to…’ or ‘X reported that…’ The information that followed, I thought, was clear that it was not coming from me.

“Clearly I did not know the proper way to aggregate, which was my intention.  I now know that I should have used quotation marks even after I wrote ‘According to…’ or ‘X reports that…’ I thought that explicitly stating whoever reported made it clear that it was from them, and not me, but I was obviously wrong. My intentions were that the reader would know that the information was from an outside source, but my lack of knowledge in aggregating prevented that.”

Hat Tip: Craig Silverman

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Ouch! Michigan Editor Plagiarizes former Intern, apologizes

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