By Renee Petrina | July 14th, 2010
The dorm-store sales have begun. Sooner than later, colleges will be back in fall session.
I’m already working on my speech for the first day of class. Last year, some students said I scared them with my warning about cheating — specifically, plagiarism. I believe my choice of phrase was “I will nail you to the wall.”
The New York Times recently reported that more than half of all universities use some sort of plagiarism detecting service. I have my own plagiarism detector — I’m a copy editor. We can spot when sentences are not your own.
The Times piece, by Trip Gabriel, had an eye-opening analysis: A slightly smaller percentage of students report having cheated, but that’s probably because they no longer think of what they did as cheating. (That’s according to who conducted the survey.)
Let me repeat that: The students do not think what they are doing is cheating.
And when those students head off as young journalists, for some reasons, they don’t see it as plagiarism. And they don’t see it as wrong.
Yes, writing is frustrating. I did 25,000 words of it just last week, on a single research topic. There were definitely times when I wanted to quit. Those times made me wonder how many unethical people get to the same point in their work, feel overwhelmed, and simply steal from others. **shudder**
I hear from both students and parents that high schools are not critically examining written assignments. Copy-pasting from the Web is accepted practice. Some of my freshmen got to college having never learned how to cite a source!
With our mission of protecting journalism, we cannot relax our standards. We have to pass on the ethical understanding that credibility is at the crux of what we do. I like what SPJ Headquarters staffer Scott Leadingham (the illustrious Quill editor) recently blogged about mentoring and helping each other out. (Read his comments here.) How can you make a difference in the outcome of future journalists?