Earlier this week, the Patch site in Palo Alto apologized after a freelancer plagiarized a story from another website. An apology posted on the site stated that copy was lifted from VentureBeat, an online tech news site. It doesn’t state if the freelancer will continue to work for the site, but the apology includes this:
The writer has been told that taking work of other writers or news organizations without attribution is absolutely not acceptable.
I would hope, at least, that this isn’t the first time said freelancer has heard this.
Patch sites haven’t had the best rep when it comes to plagiarism, similar lifting incidents have occurred in West Hollywood, New Rochelle (NY). But really, this isn’t about Patch at all. It’s about all of us in the growing new media world.
The spate of plagiarism charges leveled at Patch are indicative of an industry that is growing so fast that it’s leaving its employees behind.
New media ventures are hiring up a storm right now. Patch boasts that it is the largest hirer of journalists in the United States. Huffington Post, Politico, TBD and others are also hiring for online-only news operations. These workforces are hired cheap to work fast, which can lead to inexperienced journalists working with little or no hands-on editorial leadership if not handled correctly.
Not that a lack of knowledge about ethical and legal issues is limited to inexperienced journalists. I can personally account for several instances where journalists far above my pay grade and double my experience have revealed a startling lack of regard or knowledge for media ethics (especially as it pertains to the web).
Because many new media orgs don’t have the manpower to constantly monitor the work of employees and freelancers after they get started, it is important that there is some degree of ethics and legal training for all new hires and contract employees. I’m not talking about asking them to sign some document of complicated legalese in their first-day pile of healthcare forms and sexual harassment policies – I mean real policies and guidelines, laid out in a way that will stick.
Short of a formal class or sit-down on these issues, a document outlining the highlights of new media ethics and legal issues should be distributed to new employees. It should be straight-forward, easy-to-understand and outline definite consequences.
Here’s what I would highlight on the copyright and plagiarism front:
- Don’t copy or use text, images or multimedia without permission from anywhere on the web – this includes Facebook, Twitter and Google images.
- Credit all sources and link whenever possible.
- When aggregating others’ coverage, don’t use more than a paragraph – and ALWAYS link to the original with named credit.