Nicked by the Nationals

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Last month, amid rushing around filming for my 10-minute TV documentary on Mantovani and working on this site, I wrote a story about Bournemouth University students who were asking for Facebook to be banned on campus because they’re never able to use the computer facilities for their work. My story was published in our uni paper WIRE a couple weeks ago, and to my surprise, today, the Daily Telegraph nicked my story! They put it on the front cover of the newspaper, and even took a quote verbatim:

Miguel Dias, a final-year field archaeology student, told Wire, the student paper: “I come into university at 9am to work on my dissertation thinking I’ve beaten the crowd to the computers and I still can’t get on them because people are on Facebook.”

It gets better…
If that wasn’t cool enough, BBC News, The Daily Mail, Press Association and METRO ALL picked the story and used the same quote too!

To sue or not to sue?
While some of my non-journalist friends have been outraged and brought up idealistic notions of suing the nationals, I for one am feeling rather honoured. Maybe I’m not credited by name, but our newspaper was, and although I didn’t know that we could have sold the story to the papers if my lecturer had known about it in time, at least it’s something to say at interviews, and has certainly bolstered my oft-flailing self-esteem.

Plagiarism much?
Is it plagiarism when a journalist takes a quote from another article because they’re too busy to ring up/chase after an interviewee themselves? To give the nationals credit, some of them did bother to call my university up and get quotes from the Student Union Comms Officer and other officials, and BBC Radio Wales arranged a live telephone interview with the Comms Officer. But they all took my best quote straight off the bat.

My non-journo friends asked me if I was offended, but I’m in two minds. Technically, it is plagiarism, but it seems that the rules are rather lax in our industry about the using of other people’s quotes. As a student journalist living in Bournemouth and having to cover local stories, I once did have to take a quote from the local paper, because not all the local councillors are willing to talk to students. I’m not proud of it, only ever did it that once, but the lecturers didn’t notice. And I know people in my course who do it all the time. It’s rubbish, but who wouldn’t, with the national papers setting such a great example?

I casually googled “When is it plagiarism in newspapers?”, and found a rather interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell at the New Yorker, about plagiarising a book and turning it into a play. This paragraph stood out to me:

“When I worked at a newspaper, we were routinely dispatched to “match” a story from the Times: to do a new version of someone else’s idea. But had we “matched” any of the Times’ words—even the most banal of phrases—it could have been a firing offense. The ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of small differences: because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence.

I wonder what Malcolm thinks about quotes though? I’ve emailed him to ask, and will let you know what he says, if he replied.

How About You?
What do you think though? Is it alright to take a quote because you’re too busy to interview the person yourself, or is the very fact you plagiarise the quote, which took the most legwork to obtain, a sin in itself?

    4 Responses to “Nicked by the Nationals”

    1. Mick says:

      Personally, I’m of the opinion that the use of the quote is probably the least offensive of the misdemeanors commited here. That’s probably because I’m not a journalist and so don’t appreciate the work involved in obtaining an original quote.
      However, what was said was strictly accurate and amounts, really, to a quote of a quote and so is perhaps defendable.

      I feel the major offense comes in the use of the idea. After all, if a painter copied the mona lisa but changed the colour of the garments or the background and passed it off as their own work, wouldn’t there be outrage?

      I feel intellectual property should be respected in journalism as much as it is in any other medium and the intelligence here came in the idea which should never have been used without persmission!

      Idealistic? Of course! Like all good ideals, asking permission for every story used if another newspaper has covered it is inviable and unpolicable. But just because we can’t have justice doesn’t mean shouldn’t ask for it!

      Awesome article, very interesting idea. Should be a topic of much debate!

    2. Christine says:

      I agree with Mick, the “theft” of the idea is more upsetting than quotes, especially since they couldn’t be bothered to at least give your name.
      At the same time though, idea theft is nearly impossible to prove. After all, who is to say that the idea behind the Daily Telegraph came first, and they stumbled upon your article while researching it? Unlikely, but plausible.

      I think this is also reminiscent of the common blogging practice, to reblog news, only offering the writer’s thoughts and opinions, without necessarily presenting new evidence or information. Bloggers tend to be looked down upon for that very reason, but perhaps it isn’t such a new, Web 2.0 trend after all.

    3. Howard says:

      Great article and well done in getting your story picked up by the nationals.

    4. Jan says:

      I don’t know if you can sue in this case because the article does mention that the quote was made to Wire. That’s an extremely poor (in my opinion, at least) way to admit the story really isn’t theirs, but it’s an admission nonetheless. Plus, it looks like they did do a teeny-weeny bit of work (or did they?) getting their own quote.

      I think lifting quotes is unfortunately a fairly common occurrence in the news business. So long as you do some weak “crediting” the way the Daily Telegraph did, chances are no one will bat an eyelid. A shame, really, because like you said, obtaining quotes is a painstaking business.

      They should have shown some courtesy by at least providing a link to your story. My favorite news website do that sort of linking to stories they “repackaged” from other news channels. I think that’s only fair.

      Congrats on that well-written article, though!