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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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My journalism students need to read this-
I'm printing off a copy for each of them. Thanks Marion. I cannot count the number of times I receive chunks of internet text cobbled together in an essay or article.
Posted on 13 May 2008 09:34
Pity the poor subeditors-
I have subbed countless articles that are littered with cut and paste copy - i simply get a feeling sometimes, copy the line that's irking me into google, and voila, there it is on some obscure fansite or wherever. this has happened with both junior and senior writers; sometimes even long-time journalists who have made a name for themselves. it's dire for SA media to be this unreliable. These same journalists think wikipedia is the font of all knowledge and aren't prepared to find corroborating sources. and press releases are the absolute truth. if i were you, i wouldn't believe everything i read these days ...
Posted on 13 May 2008 09:58
Great article, BUT-
Thanks for this article, I absolutely agree with you. BUT as a working journalist I find there's never enough time in the day to go out and do real interviews and meet deadlines. Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against working hard and late, but we're also in a climate of restructuring, where 4 people now do the work of 10 ... It's an 'easy' excuse, but resources are limited. As much as possible, I do face-to-face interviews with 'real' people, but copy-and-paste jobs with 'experts'...
Posted on 13 May 2008 10:00
No BUTS, just get off your butt-
How do you think journalists did their job in the days before cellphones, e-mail, and the Internet? They got off their butts and went out to speak to REAL people, and watch REAL things taking place in the REAL world. That's what journalism is all about - that's why people buy newspapers and magazines. Otherwise, they may as well just sit at their computers and use Google and cut-and-paste themselves. Being a journalist requires passion, tenacity, curiousity, and a relentless drive to connect with people and find out what makes them tick. You'll never do that if you're stuck behind your computer all day. There is ALWAYS time to get out and do your interviews, if you really want to. And "experts" are people too - they've all got stories to tell, rather than just a bunch of facts to regurgigate. Go out and see them. Get out there and do the legwork. It's the best part of the job. If you don't think so, you should seriously question whether you're in the right profession!
Posted on 13 May 2008 13:02
Stop whingeing journo-
i can't believe that response! I also think Marion that you make a good point but believe it's up to the editors to make sure this doesn't happen. Hire a good subeditor and get them to google everything every writer does - you will be amazed at the laziness. and if you were on my team 'journo' you would be out the door....
Posted on 13 May 2008 13:09
ooookkkkaaaay, then....-
Hmmm... Interesting responses. I did not disagree with the article at all, merely pointing out some of the commercial realities we face in newsrooms on a daily basis.
Posted on 14 May 2008 13:12
Vusubuhle Moyo
Deprives us of real talent-
The articles we copy are someone's brain child and their drive at a particular moment. Everyone has a mind and if we want to work on a copy and paste basis we will not unleash those gold nuggets that only us can give to this world. Nelson Mandela did not get there by copying and pasting someone's life he made a name for him self by speaking a language only he could speak. "History makers are not scared to do something different" Quote Ps Farai Mutsekwa "History Makers take risks" not copy and paste. Thanks you
Posted on 15 May 2008 15:47
Anti-armchair journalism
Absolutely spot on-
Some younger journalists forget that there are real people behind the stories and that it's up to the journalist to extract the 'words between the lines' of what anyone says. The internet is great for background research and factual checking, but is no substitute for first-hand reporting. Besides what happened to building up good contacts who can be trusted? One can do this best by meeting someone in person, recognising them at events and gradually building up a professional relationship. That's how one can get good, original stories.
Posted on 18 Aug 2008 14:55

Let's do Biz