Which Generation is to Blame for Plagiarism?

Posted by David Rothschild on Apr 8, 2011 12:47:00 PM

Young vs Old resized 600It’s pretty common that the younger generation gets blamed for plagiarism. Many people see a bunch of kids who grew up on the internet, mashing up You Tube videos and engaging in a cut-and-paste free for all with no regard for ‘journalistic integrity.’ There is definitely an argument to be made that a ‘free-wheeling’ internet culture has been a thorn in the side of proper citations and giving attribution where it’s due.

However, lately it seems that lapses of ethical judgment have been falling on the venerated professionals who have been entrenched in their respective industries for decades.  This was most recently illustrated with the case of Sari Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist who outright plagiarized from other news sources due to the ‘deadline pressure’ she was facing.

Perhaps professional plagiarism is on the rise, or maybe plagiarism detection software is just catching it more often. Either way, it seems backwards that journalists and professionals who are supposed to be shining examples for the younger generations are breaking the rules left and right.  Students are taught from elementary school through college that plagiarism is bad. Especially in any university journalism program, plagiarism is taught to be a ‘cardinal sin’ that a real journalist would take extra steps to avoid.

UMass-Amhert Journalism Professor Steve Fox recently published an article on Poynter.org that examines the disconnect between what we’re teaching our students and what professionals in the field are actually practicing.  Professor Fox aptly notes: “Meanwhile, in journalism schools across the nation, we talk about the high price journalists pay for ethical lapses; about slowing down and getting it right; and about being true to yourself and the profession. Has preaching moved ahead of practice?”

So which generation is to blame for the current plagiarism problem we have on our hands?  Is it the younger generation, those internet-whizzes and students who are still learning the ropes, or is it the tried-and-true professionals who should have known better?

Perhaps both are to blame.  The tech-savvy generation should be hyper-aware that the chances of getting caught for plagiarism are now higher than ever with the implementation of plagiarism detection software and general internet search capabilities. The older generation should be most familiar with the ethical and professional guidelines that deter plagiarism in the first place.  If both of these factors can be taken into account and preached across the board, we’ll be on the right track.


Fox, Steve. “Washington Post plagiarism case challenges educators who tell students not to break the rules.”  Poynter.org. April 1st 2011. http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/everyday-ethics/126074/washington-post-plagiarism-challenges-educators-who-students-not-to-break-the-rules/