Aggregation online is both legitimate, acceptable and a practice that’s been embraced globally. Our mistake was attempting to carry it into print and we have stopped that.

But there’s no difference in principle. if one paper collects the facts, does another paper have the right to use them, even with attribution? Even if you don’t agree with my answer—no—better to address the issue squarely.

For his part, the JI’s Powell says if the Courant keeps it up, the paper will consider legal action.

I don’t know how the legal issues will come down, but here are a few observations:

First, disciplining employees for poorly executing a bad policy is preposterous. It is also revealing.

Put it this way, does anyone think individual reporters have anything to gain from “plagiarizing” a three-paragraph story about some obscure event in some tiny town? (UPDATE: See correction below.)

Second, if you going to apologize for something, it is important to be forthright and properly characterize the problem. This is the first rule of corrections. The real issue—certainly, in the JI’s view—is not about attribution, aka, plagiarism. It is about taking the information at all. If the Courant believes it has the right to do this, it should say so.

Third, readers should be on the lookout for the misuse of new media terms—e.g. aggregation—to accomplish retrograde ends, like taking others’ work or laying off older journalists.

Fourth, news executives waving the flag of “strict journalistic ethics” and “sacred” credibility should remember that these values don’t come cheap.


CORRECTION: An earlier version mistakenly referred to a specific news brief, about a school appointment, that was in fact not plagiarized. I regret the error. Talk about follies!

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.