Plagiarism is nothing new in this brave new digital world
THE Washington DC-based website Brightest Young Things has removed all of its content for an audit. Why? Because Logan Donaldson, the site’s managing editor “plagiarized whole sections of a 13,000-word music guide from other publications.” The article, “BYT Music Guide Spring/Summer Season 2013”, has been updated. It now reads:
All original words by: Svetlana Legetic, Shauna Alexander, Ross Bonaime, Logan Donaldson Marcus Dowling, Bryce Rudow, Alyssa Moody, Bri Younger & Shelly Bell
Ed Note: This post has been updated to include only original content produced by BYT writers. Thank you for reading and your patience.
BYT founder Svetlana Legetic is aghast and agog:
“There’s absolutely no excuses, for this. It’s a ginormous article. He was the one saddled with the music guide. We obviously don’t copy and paste from press releases. But you run out of ways to describe a new band and it gets to be 2 a.m. I’m not going to let him [Donaldson] go. He produces a lot of great original content. I’m not going to have him resign.”
Can it be prevented from happening again?
“We don’t have the system in place to check every sentence in a 13,000-word article. It’s kind of an honor system, and it failed. Questions will obviously now be asked.”
One way to prevent it happening might be review the staff. One day later, a BYT statement duly informs us:
The staff member responsible for this and possibly some other content mis-appropriations is no longer working with us, effective today, March 27th
The only questions that needs asking is why didn’t he just attribute the sources? Why make an article that long if it is a burden no-one wants?
In this day and age a simple cut and paste in the search box can reveal where else those words have appeared. The cheating was spotted by NPR intern Emily White. One example of the cheating was a section on a band called Wavves (via).
The 2009 story in Interview magazine:
While most of his friends back in San Diego are busy smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and complaining of boredom, 22-year-old Nathan Williams is busy writing and singing songs about smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and being bored. It’s an irony not lost on the boyish-looking Southern California native, who, these days, is better known by the musical nom de plume Wavves.
Donaldson’s words on Wavves (via):
While most of his friends back in San Diego are busy smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and complaining of boredom, 22-year-old Nathan Williams is busy writing and singing songs about smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding, and being bored. It’s an irony not lost on the boyish-looking Southern California native, who, these days, is better known by the musical nom de plume Wavves.We’re under the assumption that it might be warm in April, the perfect time to get into the mood for sunny music.
Will Sommer cites another example:
Australian website Novel’s words on Julio Bashmore:
One of the freshest talents coming out of Bristol, Julio Bashmore is such a master of the ins and outs of American house that he gives the impression that he was born there. His output over the past year or so has flitted around the edges, never quite moving in a straight line, roping new styles and sounds onto house foundations with an always playful, deft touch. The funky strut of Um Bongo’s Revenge, the old school piano on Jack Got Macked, Footsteppin’s rich, elastic, 2-step accented, grooves.
Julio Bashmore’s output over the past year or so has flitted around the edges, never quite moving in a straight line, roping new styles and sounds onto house foundations with an always playful, deft touch. The funky strut of “Um Bongo’s Revenge,” the old school piano on “Jack Got Macked,” “Footsteppin’s” rich, elastic, 2-step accented, grooves. You weren’t in a club last year unless you heard his brilliant crossover pop-dance hit “Au Seve.”
Marissa Cetin investigated further. She found more uncanny similarities between the site’s picks and the work of other writers. And that’s another thing. Aren’t they still your picks, even if you ‘borrowed’ the cover notes? The BYT guide trills:
We here at BYT love us some music-So, in continuation of our Spring/Summer Guides week – here’s our handy (lengthy, almost all-encompassing) guide to THE BEST in albums to buy, the best shows to blow your hard-earned $$$ on, what festivals are worth a damn, if that opener is worth coming early for, etc. etc. etc. Who do you love.
If the site loves music and is achingly sensitive your how you spend your hard-earned cash, why not reduce the spread and focus on the things your readers can be bothered to write original content for? Well, one clue might be in the “About” section of the BYT site.
We’re a web magazine and event production/experiential marketing agency based in Washington, DC and NYC. I guess if there was a good word that meant something about bridging the gap between online and real life we’d use it here.
Donaldson put his own tails to other people’s work. That’s what marketing with press releases is all about. The marketing company sends out the press release. The press releases are topped and tailed by writers. The publication slaps them up on site or in a newspaper or magazine. Donaldson isn’t a non-journalist for his actions. He’s just doing what newspapers and magazines have done for years: passing PR filler as news.
Roy Peter Clark noptes:
I smell a whiff of panic in the air. My colleague Craig Silverman dubbed the summer of 2012 — for its several literary transgressions — as the “Summer of Sin.” He cites “a cavalcade of plagiarism, fabrication and unethical recycling.” But he might just as well have written about 1981 when the “Jimmy’s World” scandal at the Washington Post rocked the journalism world. He might have time-traveled to 1934 and listened to city editor Stanley Walker complain about how many young reporters were “faking” their stories.
I see no persuasive evidence that literary abuse is more common today than in yesteryear. In the cut and paste culture of digital technology, plagiarism may be easier to commit, but it is also easier to detect. Standards may appear in decline when, in fact, media crime fighters such as Silverman are simply more assertive and armed with better Geiger counters.
Publish and be damned…