I really need some advice. My editor removed quotation marks from a direct quote I took from an online statement (from a press conference) in an article and tried to pass it off as my work. I told her that I had a problem with that because, in my opinion it wasn’t paraphrased, it was plagiarized (because the quote still appeared word-for-word). She said journalists have free reign to use any info presented either by news release, public statement or interview as public knowledge and that it doesn’t need accreditation. I disagree.
Answer by Winnipeg Sun columnist Kevin Engstrom.
Removing quotation marks from a direct quote taken from an online statement or press release is dangerous, as it could conceivably present a person’s opinion as fact. You also run the risk of journalistic dishonesty – presenting someone else’s words as your own.
That said, in the grand scheme of things, this type of practice – while wrong – is increasingly common in the industry and is hardly a firing offence. And if basic, independently verifiable information is available, then I would agree there is no need to give a person or organization credit for merely repeating it.
How you deal with this entirely depends on the culture of your newsroom and the personalities involved. Reporters in most – if not all – newsrooms in this country have the right to remove their byline if they aren’t comfortable with the edited copy. If nothing else, making such a polite request will inspire a conversation about such newsroom practices.
Kevin Engstrom is a stunningly handsome, surprisingly sophisticated city editor and columnist for the Winnipeg Sun.