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Monday, January 12, 2009

Busted

It's always funny in a way when major media outlets (or even bloggers) are caught plagiarizing from one another or from blogs. One of the supposed advantages that the press has over bloggers is credibility, though that has been severely diminished over the last number of years - not because blogs have found greater credibility, but because the press has lost whatever semblance it had.

While today's story is a much smaller version of this, it's still interesting because of how it was done and how it was caught. DealBreaker, an independent blog which comments (quite mockingly) on Wall Street news and rumors, published an internal memo at Citi discussing its possible merger with Morgan Stanley. Later, the New York Times own Wall Street blog, DealBook, published the same memo. Well, okay, big deal, right? They could both have gotten the same memo from different sources.

Except DealBreaker's memo had been altered from the original - they had changed the name of the person sending it from just his first name to his full name and position. Interestingly, the DealBook version had the same alteration. As DealBreaker notes, sure, it's a logical alteration to make to give context, so that could be explained. But DealBreaker has also altered the time of the e-mail, just in case they'd get ripped off. Whoops. Now, DealBook is clearly busted... and after DealBreaker's post on it and numerous comments challenging them, they added (DealBreaker broke news on the memo Monday morning.) to their post, as they should have had originally.

The real question is - would they would have copped to ripping off DealBreaker had the bust not been so obvious? Was there intent to credit DealBreaker, but it was forgotten (doubtful)? Would DealBreaker have been credited if they hadn't pointed it out (also doubtful)? Yes - the New York Times blogs are not the paper, though they have close affiliation. They certainly aren't expected to have journalistic standards, and are not treated as journalism. But they should still be held to certain basic ethical standards like any of us would be, and plagiarizing is simply wrong.

(Previous posts discussing plagiarism.)

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