Plagiarism:  How News Has Become 'True Lies'

(Xinhua Net (Shanxi) via  By Yuan Bixia.  December 6, 2005.

At the moment, blogs are a new fashion and some bloggers have even begun gathering news, interviewing people and commenting on political developments and breaking news for Internet users.  But within the traditional media, certain media reporters have abandoned truth in news and ignored professional ethnics to use easy and convenient Internet tools to plagiarize news.  This type of behavior is becoming more frequent, and has become a huge public evil for journalism.

"Truth is the first priority in news."  This is the first lesson for each and every journalism student, and it is also the basic principle for each and every news worker.  But today, with the development of society and the rapid transmission of information, certain news workers have tossed aside professional ethics to make up news from various places for the sake of quick and easy advantages.

Being reporters for the Shanxi office of Xinhua, we read a lot of local news reports just to make sure that we are not missing any important local news.  One day, our reporter saw that in a certain Shanxi newspaper, two reporters wrote three articles, all of which were fairly long.  The newspaper also featured these articles on the front page.

On that day, a friend who used to work at that newspaper called up our reporter.  As our reporter chatted with him, the names of the two reporters were mentioned: "Reporters XXX and YYY at your newspaper can really write.  They have three heavy-duty articles on the same day in the newspaper."  When he heard what our reporter said, the friend snorted with disgust and said: "Have you checked the news that they wrote?"  Noting that our reporter failed to comprehend, he explained:  "Those stories were all fabricated.  They are very good at fabricating news.  The two are very perceptive in terms of news.  If they see a story on the Internet about another city, especially a society story, they would transform the story with a Taiyuan location and a different date.  Then this becomes their story."  Then our reporter understood.

While speaking to another media worker, this friend of the reporter came across a funny event: "A while ago, there was a big traffic-related story in Xinyuan.  Our newspaper dispatched three reporters to gather news.  But all three were too lazy to go.  When the newspaper director pressed them for their reports, the three reporters sent in identical reports!"

Recently, our reporter read in another Shanxi metropolitan newspaper a series of reports about "Lives of Elderly People" by their reporter.  This series of articles was very similar to the national investigative report "The Sorrowful Songs of Old People", but there were some differences in the specific locales.  For example, if "The Sorrowful Songs of Old People" interviewed person LiXX in Beijing City XX district XX street XX lane , then the Shanxi article changed it to person WangYY in Taiyuan City YY street YY lane.  It was even more risible that this reporter's article would be treated as a major item published over three issues with two pages in each issue.

Even articles belonging to individual reporters cannot escape this fate.  When our reporter searched for personal works, some of them had been modified and published under the names of other reporters in their own media.

Due to the popularity of the Internet and the rapid transmission of information, plagiarism is no longer the privilege of a few reporters.  Rather, this is an growing phenomenon in media.

During the investigation, our reporter learned that among media reporters (especially among the print media), the practice of mutual plagiarism is an open secret in the profession, perhaps even an "unwritten rule."

For the moment, the simplest and most open form of plagiarism is to use the "press releases" that are being distributed.  Many reporters take these press releases, sign their names and distributed them without even the most basic changes.

Also, various news units have evaluation systems.  Failure to complete the mission or missing news reports may end up with bonuses being withheld at the very least, and dismissal from the job in the more serious cases.  Therefore, the ability to "rapidly complete" the news reports becomes something that each news worker must "learn."  Those people who cannot do this will be "eliminated" under the rules of the "survival of the fittest."

A retired Xinhua reporter told this reporter: "In the past, when we want to write an article, we have to ride in a mule cart into the countryside, even if it is just a simple report.  These days, it is a lot easier with the Internet.  You can search for whatever you need."

Another colleague told our reporter a true incident: A certain 50-year-old reporter was complaining to him.  In consideration of factors such as her age and physical condition, the unit gives her a workload that is half of the other reporters in the unit.  Even so, she just cannot keep up with the younger reporters.  Just when she is at her wits' end, a younger colleague communicated his experience to her: "If you have to make contacts and gather news on a case-by-case basis, you'll be worn pit.  Just get on the Internet, and search around, and then you re-package what is not your own material!"  When this old reporter heard that, she laughed bitterly and said: "But I still don't know how to use the Internet too well!"

If the smaller newspapers are willing to sink low, the larger newspaper are also affected due to performance pressures and other factors.  Certain reporters at big newspapers are also using these simple methods.  A while ago, a certain Shanxi reporter found that six of his articles were plagiarized over a ten day period and therefore sued two Shanxi-based reporters from a certain national newspaper and the newspaper itself as well.  That case was settled out of court.

Since plagiarism is easy and convenient, and the resulting product is an "in-depth" report, the effort is small and the results are huge.  By comparison, those who refuse to plagiarize are the weak ones in media.  Today, some of them have begun to "learn" from their colleagues and mutual plagiarism is an open secret in the media.

"These days, there are some young people who just entered the business.  They don't know how to gather news and they are too lazy to do it.  When I pressed them for the reports, they just get on the Internet to 'dig'.  There is no point in criticizing them, because this is hopeless.  What are we going to do?"  A certain friend who is in charge of strategic planning at a newspaper told his reporter.

Within the media industry, the "popular" types of plagiarism are classified as follows:

1. The most fair and open plagiarism: Copy the "press releases."  When you attend various types of press conferences, you receive press releases.  You do not dig for the news at the conference.  You just sign your name and release the article.

2. The most notorious plagiarism:  Copy from your peers.  When you see a news item published for another place, you change the time and place to turn it into your local news.

3. The most undetectable plagiarism: Copy from a book.  This type of situation appears in certain service-related news.  Some reporters buy books about health and medicine and then change the contents of those books into news stories gathered by them.

4. The most realistic plagiarism: Copy from reportage and investigative reports.  Someone else might have spent years to write an investigative report, but the reporter  extracts one portion and presents it as original work.

5. The most "subtle" plagiarism: Hire someone to gather the news and sign your own name.  Presently, in some places, the assigned reporters may hire temporary workers to gather the news and then sign their own names for publication.

"Presently, all the media reports are posted on the Internet.  It is so easy and convenient to plagiarize.  You can search for it on the Internet.  You would be stupid not to plagiarized."  This is what someone said with reason and force.  But is it really the fault of the Internet?

Our reporter understands that people plagiarize for these reasons:

1. The workload is so huge as to be impossible to complete.  Presently, most media organizations stipulate various assignments for the reporters.  In order to raise the enthusiasm of the reporters, some media organizations institute bonus systems as well as the elimination of the poorest performers.  In the face of these pressures, some reporters must take the easy way out in order to complete the assignments.

2. Minimizing the effort.  It takes just a few minutes to download some piece of news from the Internet and make some editing changes.  But writing a real news item may take at least a day to gather the news and then write it.  Certain lazy reporters will use this easy and time-saving method.

3. The development of the Internet sets up the conditions for plagiarism.  At the present, the Internet is covering more and more content, and the search engines are becoming more and more powerful.  No matter what you need, you can type in the keywords and all sorts of content materials become available.  This provides very convenient conditions for plagiarists.

Actually, according to our reporter, the most basic cause for plagiarism among reporters is the increasing competition among reporters.  Certain media workers have lost their sense of responsibility and treat news reporting as just another form of livelihood with total disregard for professional ethics.  This causes them to accomplish the mission by various means "with one's best try."

Truth is the life of news.  News without any element of truth is a fatal "tumor" for the news business itself.  It is even more damaging for society and the receiving audience.  

News professionals should submerse themselves into the grassroots, get among the masses, insist on the real, stay close to life and the masses.  They must use highly responsible and zealous determination to write true and objective news and then communicate them to the people.  That is the basic principle of a reporter.

At the present, with the hastened rhythm of life and the sudden emergence of new media news, information is being broadcast and communicated in quicker and more diversified ways.  Reporters have more and more ways of obtaining news, and this enhances the capability of those who want to fake news.  Certain frontline reporters become superficial and no longer conduct in-depth investigations; some don't even do any investigation and just make stuff up or plagiarize other people's work.

Truth is the life of news.  The proliferation of fake news creates more harm than even certain contraband wines or cigarettes.  At a minimum, the damage is for individual reporters to lose their most fundamental ethics and their image.  More generally, social trust is lost.  In an environment in which social and market conditions dictate everything, social trust is the foundation by which media exist.  At a higher level, fake news damages the foundation of government, because our media have claimed to be the eyes, ears and mouths of the Party and the people.

But there is little cost and plenty of benefits to create fake news.  Some news workers have given up the most basic principles of their profession, and therefore fake news have proliferated, to the point where they look just like real news and therefore create the "unwritten rule" that even fake news can become real news.  When the fakers can create fake news with impunity, the damage to society is inestimable.

As to how to excise the "malignant tumors" in news, our reporter believes that it is necessary to enhance the ethical education of the news workers on one hand.  On the hand, it is necessary to severely punish those who fake news and use such counter-educational examples to raise the ethical standards of news workers and defend truthfulness in news.  We can also borrow the foreign examples and impose heavy fines and public apologies when fake news are found, with the permanent banning of those reporters who faked the news from the profession.