Columnist accused of serial plagiarism

Posted by Rachel Weeks

While plagiarism is hardly a new problem, it seems that the development of the internet has made it infinitely easier. Millions of writers post their work online–articles, columns, blog posts and the like–and it is instantly made available to anyone with a computer and a search engine. With that many articles online, catching a plagiarist is like trying to play a memory matching game with a billion cards.

On the other hand, the internet also makes plagiarism easier to detect. If there is even a whisper of suspicion, an editor only needs to google the suspect passage to find the plagiarized material. But despite the internet’s quick and thorough search features, plagiarism remains prevalent.

In early March of 2012, Jon Flatland–former president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and one-time newspaper owner–was accused of serial plagiarism by humor writer, Dave Fox, who alleged that Flatland stole a number of columns from him. Fox continued to dig and found many more suspected cases of plagiarism under Flatland’s byline including a humor column for which Flatland received an award from the North Dakota Newspaper Association (NDNA). The column was actually written by Jason Offutt.

According to Rick Bussler, publisher of The Times, Flatland had been in the news industry for 28 years with evidence to support that he plagiarized throughout.  Flatland was even fired once before for plagiarism while serving as editor of the Cavalier County Republican in Langton, N.D.

Flatland was given a second chance at journalism, one that he subsequently blew at a different newspaper. If you had a staff member that was caught plagiarizing, how would you handle that? Answer the poll and leave a comment to elaborate.

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2 responses to “Columnist accused of serial plagiarism

  1. Loved your integration of a poll in this post! We’ve all been in a situation where deadlines and assignments seem never ending, and where plagiarism begins to seem like the only option. But (obviously) it is never okay to plagiarize, even if only done once, and these types of situations (pardon my sexist cliche) separate the journalist boys from the men.

  2. I really liked the idea of incorporating a poll into your post. Honestly, I think that it really depends on the situation. If a new writer made a small mistake, I would of course give them some sort of consequence, but I’m not sure I would fire them right off the bat. If it was a very big issue, then I would take more serious actions of course. I think it is crazy that this same guy plagiarized multiple times in the same state and no one ever thought to check his work. After the first instance of plagiarism, I would keep a very close eye on that person, and that is what I think they should have done with Flatland. Great post!

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