The sweet revenge of Visual Plagiarism.

Last week an unnamed intern was fired from a the Richmand Times-Dispatch Newspaper for some what copying an image they had seen in a magazine for a story they were covering on a candy shop and submitting it as original art. The images do look very similar when compared side by side and it is believed that this was done intentionally. The below article is from the newspaper explaining the situation and that fact that they have rewritten some employment guidelines for the position.
I have to stop and think about this. I am not a journalism shooter so I can not really understand their world but this could have unconsciously happened to any one of us. If you are like me you look at many images from every where. These images like it or not are imbedded in our minds and I believe we learn from them and improve our own style. Are we to divert our eyes from great photography as to protect us from a possible visual plagiarism accusation? I think not. Most everything in this world that can be photographed has been so I know that most of my work is unoriginal and most likely a copy of some other great photographer. Maybe this is why I am not a journalism shooter.
I know newspapers have a strict policy on plagiarism but this is a sad situation maybe better management from the paper could have avoided this situation. After all the photographer was an intern. Gosh darn it interns make mistakes.
What do you think of visual plagiarism? How can you protect yourself from VP? Do you worry about this in your field? Let us know.
Ethics Case: We Erred, and Now We Are Taking Action
Style Weekly cover from Dec. 22, 2004 and Metro Business cover from Aug. 22.
You can see for yourself that our Metro Business cover photo Monday about a Richmond-area candy company copied the Style Weekly cover of December 22.
We conducted a review after the similarity in the covers was brought to our attention late Monday afternoon.
We learned that the photographer had seen the Style photo while at the candy company, and was told of the similarity, but submitted the picture anyway as original work. That is visual plagiarism and that is why we have dismissed the photographer.
Our review also found troublesome similarities between the Metro Business article and Style’s that raised questions about several newsroom processes.
The Metro Business article was written by a summer intern who has since returned to college. She should have received more guidance and editing on this story — a journalistic version of tough love, if you will — than she got.
I spoke with her Thursday, and she said she learned a lot from this experience. We have, too.

  • The editing was cursory throughout, from the photo editing to the copy editing. Hindsight is wonderful, but a pattern of careful editing could have uncovered some clues. For instance, one photo was strikingly different from all the others shot for the assignment. Historical background was unusually detailed for this type of article.
  • WE ARE changing the way we introduce our interns to the newsroom. When they arrive, we will do more than hand them a copy of our Guidelines for Professional Conduct. We will talk about the Guidelines with them, with emphasis on integrity and intellectual honesty.
  • We are reassessing the practice of handing out a clipping of an entire article as background for an assignment. Isn’t giving a clip of even one of our own articles just increasing the chance a journalist will lean on it too much?
  • We were already revising our Guidelines for Professional Conduct. But we need to be more specific about not copying the work of others, whether verbal or visual, and about giving credit for ideas that we think are good enough to imitate.

And we need to talk more about ethics in general. One question that arose was: Is there such a thing as visual plagiarism? Some reporters and editors were not familiar with photojournalists’ ethical standards, and we need to foster communications to increase understanding.
“THIS IS ABOUT us” and our standards, a copy editor said during a newsroom discussion last week. He was right.
In the future, if anyone on our staff ever gets wind of something like this, we want it to be second nature to say, “Wait a minute! You can’t do that! We don’t do that!”