Plagiarism is often described as one of the most serious ethical violations in journalism. It is so widely presumed to be self-evidently wrong that most ethics codes and textbooks, if they address the subject at all, dispatch it in a terse, finger-wagging prohibition such as “never plagiarize.” A study of 10 years of journalistic plagiarism showed that 57% of offenders lost their jobs through resignation or dismissal. Although universally condemned, plagiarism is not uniformly defined or understood. Journalists debate whether visuals and ideas can be plagiarized while concurring that words can be. However, there is no standard for how many words, consecutively or cumulatively, constitute plagiarism. Neither is there agreement over severity. Some ambiguity is due to situational factors, as some subjects allow for distinctive ...

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