Plagiarism, Academia and Journalism

Sep 15, 2011

image0The Independent has finished it's investigation into the Johann Hari saga and while Hari has apologised, it's in such a way that reinforces the idea I've seen in a few places that at least partly due to Hari being plucked right out of the university and missing some of the fine points of the journalistic code on his way to the top:

I am going to take an unpaid leave of absence from The Independent until 2012, and at my own expense I will be undertaking a programme of journalism training.(I rose very fast in journalism straight from university.) And third, when I return, I will footnote all my articles online and post the audio online of any on-the-record conversations so that everyone can hear them and verify they were said directly to me.

I've no doubt that's probably true and that Hari (like almost everyone) would have benefited from more on-the-job training, but a big part of being an undergraduate is learning and internalizing academic codes of behaviour about how you use other people's work, words and ideas in your own. This viewpoint seems to suggest that "it is a bad thing to pass off other people's work as your own" is an obscure bit of the journalism rules rather than, as someone with a double-first from Cambridge, something he should have been a little bit acquainted - as Jeremy Duns points out, the word I've hardly seen at all in this is 'plagiarism'. Similarly that harassing and defaming people is bad isn't an obscure point, but something you're supposed to learn at an even earlier level of schooling.  Hari doesn't have a journalism problem as much as an ethics problem and, while that's not irreconcilable with a return to journalism, it is a serious problem for a future as the moral campaigner he so clearly sees himself as.

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