Wikipedia Unmasks Plagiarism But Gets no Credit

    January 16, 2006

The brief article by editor Frank Bridgewater in the January 13 edition of the Honolulu Star Bulletin informs readers that entertainment reporter Tim Ryan has been dismissed for “phrases or sentences that appeared elsewhere before being included, un-attributed, in stories that ran in the Star-Bulletin.”

The explanation for Ryan’s firing includes links to the online versions of the offending articles uncovered during an “investigation,” noting that these versions have been appended with corrections or an editor’s note.

The Star-Bulletin takes very seriously any allegations of journalistic misconduct. We know that the integrity of the newspaper is paramount, and we will do whatever is necessary to uphold it.

It might have been a sign of integrity on the Star Bulletin’s part to give credit where it is due. The “items that appeared elsewhere” (isn’t there a word for that? Oh, yeah. Plagiarism.) came from Wikipedia, and it was a Wikipedia editor who sussed out the articles. (You can see a side-by-side comparison in Wikipedia.)

Unfortunately, the Star Bulletin was either unaware of Wikipedia’s allegations or didn’t lend credence to the open source encyclopedia until other papers like the Hawaii Reporter and online sites like Regret the Error began running with the story.

(No plagiarism here. I found the story on Slashdot.)

There are several lessons from the Star Bulletin’s experience. First, take online sources seriously. It makes sense to occasionally run your own company name through Wikipedia-one of the most visited sites on the web-to see what’s being written about you. Writers using Wikipedia (or other online sources) as a resource should do just that, not copy the language wholesale. (Making a few changes to sentence structure doesn’t get you off the hook.) All of which should be painfully obvious, but the Ryan/Star Bulletin experience suggests otherwise.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.