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Bothersome Sourcing in CJR Plagiarizing Story

I'm going to start the week by tapping away on the echoing plagiarism drum.

This time, however, I will do so with a gentle rap or two with my pica pole at an otherwise timely story I came across in the Columbia Journalism Review over the weekend titled, "To Catch a Plagiarist."

The article's author, Craig Silverman, ponders why, with an ever-increasing number of plagiarism detection services on the market, more newspapers and other publications allegedly aren't using them to catch plagiarizers.

This story comes on the heels of recent high-profile plagiarism incidents at The New York Times and The Daily Beast.

While I found this piece thought-provoking, I was bothered by how closely Silverman, a self-proclaimed expert on the subject of plagiarism and the editor of the web site RegretTheError.com, came to swerving into the advertorial lane for one of these detection companies, iThenticate.

Throughout the story, Silverman gives loads of space to Robert Creutz, the general manager of iThenticate, to talk up and about his product, and talk down publications that aren't buying it.

Problem is, we get virtually nothing from publications who allegedly aren't using any of these services, and iThenticate in particular. We also don't hear from any of the other detection services on the market.

At one point Creutz alleges, "I've pitched the service what seems like over 100 times over to the New York Times and the last time was after Maureen Dowd (a columnist for the paper) copied [part of] that column. They basically told me, 'Maureen is going to be fine - this will blow over'."
Silverman then types this is in the next paragraph: Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe, however, wasn't fine. He resigned earlier this week after an internal review, which was set off by a complaint from The Wall Street Journal, found he had plagiarized from a variety of sources.

That's a pretty strong double-barreled shot at The Times.

I would have felt a lot better about this if after allowing Creutz to take aim at The Times and then adding his own rejoinder, if Silverman had gone to the newspaper for comment.

He didn't.

We do hear from one newspaper, the Hartford Courant, that used the iThenticate service and then dropped it because, to quote Carolyn Lumsden, the paper's commentary editor, "iThenticate wanted us to sign a complicated multipage legal contract. Maybe that's what they do with universities (their primary client). But we weren't interested in such entanglements."

And that's it.

From there the story goes into who else is using the service and how important Creutz thinks it is that they are.

In the end, there might not be a single good reason why more major publications don't seem to be buying these detection services, but to hear from only one of them in a story otherwise loaded with Creutz's cheer-leading for his product seems pretty heavy-handed to me.

While I applaud the work Silverman has done in keeping the bright light on plagiarism, I am surprised that the CJR didn't want more balance and sourcing in his story.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)