NYT writer plagiarizes from WSJ

It’s always surprising to see a correction has made the top ten most blogged pieces of the day at the NYT, but today, I can understand the interest. Financial writer Zachery Kouwe has apparently been copying his work for the New York Times’ DealBook blog from the Wall Street Journal.

The Times was alerted to the problem by editors at The Wall Street Journal. They pointed out extensive similarities between a Journal article, first published on The Journal’s Web site around 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, and a DealBook post published two hours later, as well as a related article published in The Times on Feb. 6.

Those articles described an agreement on an asset freeze for members of Bernard L. Madoff’s family, in a lawsuit filed by a court-appointed trustee. In the Times article and the DealBook post, several passages are repeated almost exactly from the Journal article.

A subsequent search by The Times found other cases of extensive overlap between passages in Mr. Kouwe’s articles and other news organizations’. (The search did not turn up any indications that the articles were inaccurate.)

Well, it’s nice to know he was only plagiarizing, not making shit up, I guess. But John Rabe at Southern California Public Radio asks a more interesting question, I think: “Just how dumb do you need to be to steal from the Wall Street Journal, especially when you work for the New York Times?”

The answer, here, may be: not that dumb. Note that the problem was brought to the attention of the The Times by The WSJ editors — not by commenters, not by WSJ readers, not even by other reporters. There’s probably not as much reader overlap between these papers as one might think, particularly in that those who read the Wall Street Journal probably don’t turn to the Times for analysis. Also, readers of the NYT’s DealBook blog are, I would guess, somewhat less likely to be paying subscribers to the Wall Street Journal — a subscription that would most likely have been necessary to notice the copying.

This is in no way to dismiss what Kouwe’s done as OK. It’s completely not. It violates not only the Times’ ethical standards, as they discuss in their correction, but also the trust that readers have in the product on their Web site. Plagiarism is a serious crime between writers, and I hope Mr. Kouwe pays for it with his job.

It is, however, extremely rampant these days. When citation should be easier than ever, the pressures of quick writing are turning more and more writers into thieves. Put on top of that the reluctance of many news sites to link to competitors and you’ve opened the door to more and more plagiarism down the road.

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