Today, I am breaking away from our typical theme to address a potentially contentious issue.
A preface: before I started writing for this blog, I wrote general interest articles and political profiles for a newspaper. I also often engage in political discussion with anyone who will have it, and follow the political and literary blogosphere. My background and tendencies led me to following Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish. In fact, I follow it so closely that I could probably be considered a “Dishhead,” as fans are called over there.
When I started writing at Robot Central, the agreement was for me to write five original, long-form posts a week, all original content. After I got started, and after some discussion, our aim began to evolve. The agreement then became, we want to write and curate content for our readers.
Due to the influence that The Daily Dish had on me, I suggested we take a similar course with our new aim in mind, wherein we write a few long-form articles and then curate content from around the web in the form of editorial call-outs. The curated items would be things that interested me and that I would want to share with friends, along with keeping to the theme of Robot Central. We figured adopting that methodology would keep people with us and grow our reader-base, and it offered more points of discussion for our readers.
There is, of course, no one right way to blog. There are vague concepts and, generally, it seems people do what best fits their goal. There are ethical concerns with blogging, though, just as with any mode of writing. Among the most serious of the ethical infractions is plagiarism.
As I understand it, plagiarism is a simple concept, though many different nuances can inform it. The simple, heart-of-the-matter concept is that if you take someone’s work without attribution and claim it as your own, then it is plagiarism. The law has dealt with related matters of copyright, parody and what not, but plagiarism is only rivaled in the arena of ethics by simply making things up.
So, we come to my dread and horror that we were being accused of maybe plagiarizing. After all, as a writer and a reporter, that is a serious, career-impacting allegation. What happened:
We asked some folks if they would consider adding us on their blog rolls, if they saw fit. One of the responses we received implied that we could be considered plagiarizing our content because most of our posts were the editorial call-outs that included quotes from other websites. Our response was that we weren’t convinced that it was considered plagiarism, but we’d take the advice under consideration.
Research ensued. We solicited opinions about our blog and we looked up what others had to say, on blogging, on the issue of plagiarism and how to deal with it. For my part, I left no more educated about the issue than when I had started my research. Sure, I was introduced to new terms: blogarism, splogging and other terms, but the underlying meanings ended up being common sense. That is, attribute the posts correctly, don’t spam your readers and don’t misrepresent the content. Standard ethics. And, as far as I can tell, we fall within the realm of fair use with our posts.
What I did take away from my research is that no one really has a good handle on what is considered plagiarism in blogs, or “blogarism,” and that perception is often more important than whether you did the deed or not. We do not want to do any sort of disservice to our readers, so we’re putting the question out there for our readers to get back to us on, and we would also appreciate the opinion of our peers in this discussion.
So, what say you? Does what we do constitute a form of plagiarism? Why, or why not? More than that, should there be some sort of formalized protocol for bloggers?
A quick house-keeping note: after this week, we will be switching back to the five original content posts. This is due to some life-related changes that I will be undertaking for the next couple of months. Around February, we’re going to re-think our strategy.