The Internet has many unique qualities. One is the extreme difficulty in trying to undo something that has already been published online. In many cases, there are no “take backs.”
Recently, a Swiss management firm tried to have the Web site Wikileaks taken down because the site allegedly hosted sensitive information from the bank. Although a U.S. judge ordered one of Wikileaks’ Web addresses to be removed, the move appears to have backfired. As Ars Technica reports, Wikileaks is still accessible and the matter has drawn a ton of publicity.
Looking locally, the Chico News & Review recently removed a name from one of its stories online — the subject of a Feb. 7 article looking into possible plagiarism at The Orion, the student newspaper at Chico State University.
The move left me wondering why. This student isn’t anonymous — her name remains on the story she filed for The Orion. Also, her name remains in the print version of the News & Review, which has a stated circulation of 42,000. I’m fairly sure I can dig through Google’s cache of the original N&R article to find the name as well.
According to an update posted on the N&R’s article, the newspaper removed her name at the request of the Orion author and the Chico State journalism department. The note does not offer further details, but I wish the N&R would have given us more. It is very rare for newspapers to remove information like this, especially at the request of a story’s subjects.
At issue is an Orion story published exclusively online on Dec. 22, which appears to contain sentences and phrases that are extremely similar to those in an earlier article published in The Sacramento Bee. The Orion article doesn’t attribute the Bee, although an editor’s note has acknowledged the similarities.
The N&R published a sidebar pairing the similar opening paragraphs from each story.
Was it plagiarism? I can’t say, but a dictionary definition of plagiarizing (from m-w.com) is “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.”
The Orion editors and Chico State faculty have strenuously denounced the plagiarism allegations in the N&R article and in subsequent letters to the N&R. However, the print edition of The Orion has remained utterly silent on the matter (although there’s that note on the online article).
For the sake of completeness, here are the articles (in chronological order):
- “Hours-old baby given to stranger at gas station” – Chelsea Phua, The Sacramento Bee; Dec. 18, 2007 [accessed Feb. 28, 2008]
- “Chico State graduate aids abandoned baby at gas station” – Taylor Flores, The Orion Online; Dec. 22, 2007 [accessed Feb. 28, 2008]
- “Copy cat?” – Meredith J. Cooper, Chico News & Review; Feb. 7, 2008 [accessed Feb. 28, 2008]
- “See for yourself” – Chico News & Review; Feb. 7, 2008 [accessed Feb. 28, 2008]
- “Letters” – Chico News & Review; Feb. 14, 2008 [accessed Feb. 28, 2008]