Last month, the blog Newsbusters discovered that a large chunk of a piece that Zakaria wrote for Time magazine about gun control was almost identical to sections from a New Yorker piece on the same topic, written by Jill Lepore. Zakaria was subsequently suspended by both Time and CNN (although he has recently been reinstated after both entities said they found no evidence of further plagiarism). Lehrer, meanwhile — a high-profile author — was fired by the New Yorker after it was discovered that he had duplicated information from a number of sources.
One of the themes that has been brought up repeatedly in stories about both Zakaria and Lehrer is the idea that they have been overworked as a result of media multi-tasking. Stories about the Lehrer incident, for example, note that he was writing books and had a packed public-speaking schedule while also trying to write a blog for the New Yorker, and Zakaria made the same link by saying he plans to cut down on his responsibilities — implying that this was to blame for him mixing up his notes from the New Yorker piece with his own writing (he also said he recently hired an assistant).But I think Box.net CEO Aaron Levie put his finger on a big part of the problem in a tweet he posted recently, in which he said plagiarism “is just really inefficient hyperlinking.”
Although he probably just intended to be witty, I think Levie makes a good point. Plagiarism is defined as the attempt to “steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one’s own,” and it is the last part of that definition that is the most important one. It isn’t so much that a writer like Lehrer or Zakaria takes information from someone else and uses it in a column — plenty of writers do that, and as the media world has exploded thanks to social tools such as blogs and Twitter, this phenomenon has only become more commonplace. But neither of them gave credit to the source of the content they used, and that was the real crime.
Read the full piece at gigaom