The Cautionary Tale of Gerald Posner

Why the Daily Beast investigative reporter’s plagiarism should be a lesson — not for journalists, but in hiring for the Web

Last Updated: February 11, 2010 @ 3:05 PM

Gerald Posner’s resignation from Tina Brown’s Daily Beast on Wednesday revealed a new media twist on the plagiarism tale.

Posner — who had been suspended last week after the first allegations surfaced on Slatesaid his plagiarism was “inadvertent” and was a product of shifting from a career as a book writer to the “warp speed of the net.”

To this point, I can’t recall "speed" being used as an excuse in major plagiarism cases. But Posner’s admission should give caution to Web companies who seek to hire from the print-only pool.

It’s unclear if the Beast intends to fill Posner’s now-vacant investigative post (I asked the Daily Beast managing editor Ed Felsenthal for comment; he declined) or how its editorial policies might change in light of the Posner case. (As a commenter on Gawker suggested, the site might want to invest in software college professors use that can quickly identify plagiarism.)

The bigger issue, though, is what Posner himself admitted: he had trouble adjusting to the “warp speed of the net” from his career as an author and print journalist. (Although, his suddenly heavy workload of two online articles a week? C’mon dude.)

As more “old school” journalists like Posner move online, it’s likely we’ll be seeing more of examples of “inadvertent” plagiarism.

Because, if you think about it, Posner was the first major “Internet” journalist to be caught plagiarizing – and he came from the print world, where names like Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Kaavya Viswanathan and James Frey spring to mind.

Just a biased opinion here, but I think journalists who cut their teeth on the Web are accustomed to crosslinking, “via” sourcing and other standard Web practices – at least moreso than guys like Posner — and therefore less likely to "inadvertently" plagiarize.

In some of the examples cited by Slate, Posner was already reworking — however sloppily — copy from outside sources to make his points; all he would’ve needed was a hyperlink and an "according to," and the dreaded "plagiarist" tag would’ve been reduced to "lazy" or, at worst, "hack."

It sounds like Posner was more of a research guy, organized enough to have a “master file,” but too disorganized to maintain sourcing when it came time to cut it down.

My advice to the Beast, and any other sites out there currently hiring: careful with those print pros who aren’t prepared for “warp speed.”

More to read:

Admitting Plagiarism, Posner Resigns From the Daily Beast

[Photo via Slate]

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