Plagiarism or Bad Aggregation? Deseret News Adds Editor's Note After iMedia

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The Deseret News added this editor's note to a July 3 story after iMediaEthics' inquiry. (Credit: Deseret News, screenshot, highlight added)

After iMediaEthics flagged a July 3 article that lifted and in some cases plagiarized from the Washington ExaminerThe Deseret News quickly re-wrote a report and added an editor’s note admitting that the story “failed to properly attribute all source materials.”

A source who asked to remain anonymous tipped iMediaEthics off to the questionable attribution and sourcing in the Deseret News’ story, “Branch of the State Department spent $630,000 on Facebook ‘likes.'” The article closely mirrored a Washington Examiner report from the day before, with just one link and mention back to the Examiner. The article in the Deseret News, a daily newspaper based in Salt Lake Citywas 276 words long, just 28 words shorter than the Examiner‘s original report.

iMediaEthics notes that the Deseret News article barely re-wrote the Examiner’s article. It used the same two quotes from the Inspector General’s report that the Examiner selected and then either copied-and-pasted sentences with insignificant re-writes or made minimal re-writes of the Examiner‘s article.

To its credit, the Deseret News responded quickly to iMediaEthics’ concerns. general manager Chris Higbee emailed iMediaEthics:

“Thank you for alerting us to the sourcing problems in this story. It does not meet our editorial standards, and we have re-edited and updated the story, and included an editor’s note.

“Again, thank you for bringing this to our attention. We take issues of attribution seriously and must reflect that in everything we publish.”

After rewriting and shortening the article, the Deseret News gave more attribution to the Examiner and inserted at the end of the article a link pointing to the original source material: “Read more on the story from The Washington Examiner, and see the official report from the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Inspector General.”

The Deseret News also put an editor’s note at the bottom of the article to disclose the changes. The editor’s note reads:

“Editor’s Note: The original version of this story posted on July 3, 2013, failed to properly attribute all source materials, which violates our editorial policies. The story was modified on Oct. 7, 2013, after we were alerted to the problem by iMedia Ethics.”

Finally, in a most unusual step, the Deseret News changed the byline of its story from “By Michael Smith” to “Compiled by Michael Smith.”

Check out below side-by-side comparisons of selections from the Examiner report and the original Deseret News story.

The Washington Examiner:

“The spending increased the bureau’s English-language Facebook page likes from 100,000 to more than 2 million and to 450,000 on Facebook’s foreign-language pages.

“Despite the surge in likes, the IG said the effort failed to reach the bureau’s target audience, which is largely older and more influential than the people liking its pages.”

The Deseret News:

“Spending more than half-million dollars did have an effect on the page’s popularity, though.

“The page increased its likes from 100,000 to more than 2 million and to 450,000 on its foreign language pages during the ad campaign.

“Even though the popularity soared, the inspector general says that the State Department failed to reach its target audience — older citizens who are more influential — rather than the lackluster teenagers who ended up liking the page.”

A more egregious example is below.

  • The Washington Examiner: “Only about 2 percent of fans actually engage with the pages by liking, sharing or commenting.”
  • The Deseret News: “Only about 2 percent of the fans are actually engaged on the page by liking, commenting and sharing.

Finally, a third example:

  • The Washington Examiner: “Not only does the bureau lack its own social media strategy, but various State Department bureaus have more than 150 social media accounts that are uncoordinated and often overlap, according to the IG.”
  • The Deseret News: “Additionally, State Department bureaus have more than 150 social media accounts between them, none of which are coordinated and many of which overlap.”

iMediaEthics’ screenshot of the original Deseret News article is linked.

iMediaEthics has written to the author of the Washington Examiner article for comment and will update with any response. We’ve also asked the Deseret News if it plans to review all of reporter Michael Smith’s work and how many, if any, editors reviewed the article before publication.

In August, the Deseret News unpublished a column by Richard and Linda Eyre that plagiarized from the New York Times. The Deseret News’ correction said that the column “erroneously failed to use quotation marks.” The columnist, Richard Eyre, told iMediaEthics by email that he just “hurriedly and stupidly forgot” to give proper attribution when quickly putting together the column on the Times article.

After a review, the Deseret News found another five columns by the Eyres that contained improper attribution and suspended the columnists for a month. Richard Eyre told the Salt Lake Tribune that he and his wife wrote for free “as unpaid volunteers.”

UPDATE: 10/7/2013 7:29 PM EST Added a link to a screenshot of the original article.

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Plagiarism or Bad Aggregation? Deseret News Adds Editor’s Note After iMediaEthics Inquiry

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