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The curse of cut and paste

Another title here could be “Lazy journalism at its best”. For the last 14 years of teaching journalism I've said more times than I can remember to my students that I don't want regurgitated Internet text in their work. I understand the enormous value of the Internet in terms of research and indeed use it myself constantly - BUT I'm also aware of the law of copyright and that dirty word - plagiarism.

What brought this into sharp focus for me was a conversation I had the other night with a friend and colleague, who's also a psychiatrist. He mentioned that he's fed up with journalists who call him and want information BUT instead of conducting an interview with him, want him to write a couple of paragraphs or so on such and such a topic. They then cut and paste his words and put them in their story.

I can just hear many journos reading this and saying, “What's your problem?”

My problem is that what happened to the interview? You may have X amount of questions, but the best part of an interview is that once you start asking these questions, the interview takes turns that you weren't expecting and often you end up with several different angles to the one you started with and nine times out of 10 a better story.

Nothing can replace

Nothing can replace, for instance, the emotion and moods you can pick up when listening to these answers. By conveying more than ‘he said, she said' to your readers, you are adding another dimension to your story.

Recently I was also looking through entries for a particular journalism award I was judging and again I was amazed at how many obvious cut-and-paste stories I found. Another time, while conducting a workshop with a group of journalists, I asked their editor what he'd like me to concentrate on with his staff. His words to me were: “I'd like you to get them off their backsides and out of the office.”

This is what it all boils down to - really putting an effort into a story. Getting more than one side to it and going out and TALKING to people - not sitting ripping stuff off the Internet.

As the psychiatrist said, he now refuses to give information this way but if people want to interview him, then he'll be happy to oblige. The message is simple - question, don't copy.

About Marion Scher

Marion Scher ( is an award-winning journalist, lecturer, media trainer and consultant with 25 years' experience in the industry. For more of her writing, go to her Bizcommunity profile or to Twitter @marionscher.

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