Last month the University of Virginia student newspaper the Cavalier Daily released an editorial explaining that one of its writers produced “an article that featured words and phrases copied verbatim from at least two other sources without attribution.”
Unfortunately this admirable step in the way of journalistic integrity wasn’t met with the praise it deserved, and for pursuing the ethical high road the editors of the Cavalier Daily were rewarded with formal university charges for breaching the confidentiality of the writer in question.
When editor-in-chief Jason Ally brought the issue to the Honor Committee, a body made up of fellow students whose job it is to uphold the school’s honor code, he wound up in the hot seat. The committee found Ally guilty of violating the university’s Standards of Conduct by publishing the editorial even though the name of the student in question was not given.
Though the plagiarized article in question was caught and withheld before it went to print, when the editors took a closer look at the writer’s body of work, they found that three articles that had already been printed in the paper had been plagiarized as well.
A copy editor for the Cavalier Daily uncovered the alleged plagiarism early in September. By running a basic Google search it was discovered that huge chunks of the article had been lifted from a major media outlet. It was discovered that the writer had been routinely lifting passages verbatim from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Wikipedia without documenting the source of the information.
Plagiarism is unacceptable within the field of journalism and in the world of academia, and it’s admirable that the editors of the Cavalier Daily came forward about the problem happening right beneath their noses, rather than silently burying it in hopes that nobody would notice.
Ethical reporting is the central tenet of responsible journalism that needs to be practiced whether you write for a high school newspaper or the New York Times. It is disturbing that UVA would punish students for bringing to light actions that would lead to immediate termination of employment in the real world given the same situation.
UVA should be proud to have students with the integrity and courage to stand up against unethical journalistic practices, even if it undermines their own authority and acclaim as editors.
The editors of the Cavalier Daily could have quietly brushed the matter aside and, chances are, no one would have been the wiser. But they didn’t. They made a mistake and they bravely faced it because the journalistic integrity of their newspaper was more important to them than the potential of negative consequences.
If UVA won’t praise the integrity and courage of the Cavalier Daily editors, the Bullet will.