The Michigan Daily exists to give students a voice. So the people who labor to create its pages were devastated to learn that someone would abuse that privilege by using the words of others as his own. After discovering that one of our writers, Alex Wolsky, used sentences from other sources in some of his Daily articles, we are determined to keep it from happening again.

Like most newspapers, the Daily requires that its writers cite sources when using information that they have not confirmed themselves. Further, writers may use others’ exact words only if they denote them with quotes or otherwise make clear who said them. So far, our investigation has found five articles by the same author that violate this standard.

– “Shine on you crazy ‘Diamonds,’ ” a review of a Ben Harper album, published March 17, 2003. A sentence apparently comes from a Pitchfork Media review.

– “About a Boy,” a look back at the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, published April 9, 2004. The plagiarism here is more extensive, including several whole sentences and even passages of several sentences with few if any words changed from their original version in a Rolling Stone article. Although the original article and its author are cited in the story, that does not excuse the plagiarism of phrases.

– “The Dandelion Writer,” a piece of fiction, published Sept. 23, 2004. Several phrases are taken directly from the writings of music critic Lester Bangs. The character in the story refers to Bangs, but again, this does not excuse the use of his words without credit.

– “A Brand New Day,” a review of a Brian Wilson album, published Sept. 28, 2004. One passage of a few sentences appears to have been taken from a Rolling Stone article; another apparently came from the album’s liner notes. Wolsky collaborated with another writer, who is not in any way responsible for the plagiarism.

– “Elvis Costello shows his age,” a review of a Costello album published Nov. 5, 2004. A sentence appears to come from a New York Magazine review.

It is disheartening for us to publish such a list. It is especially disturbing because the writer in question held a position of influence at the Daily. He spent nearly two years here and became an associate arts editor. His job required him to help manage the arts section, train writers and edit their stories. We should be very clear that what we have uncovered is limited to a few short passages in a few articles by a single writer. Yet whatever its magnitude, such a violation of ethics is cause for concern.

Since firing the author of the articles, the Daily is taking more steps to prevent plagiarism in the future. Although editing can never ensure that every word is the original creation of its author, several safeguards can be implemented. To prevent any confusion about the rules of ethical journalism, the Daily will add an ethics code to its bylaws. To reinforce these standards, the Daily will hold mandatory seminars for its staff. We must increase communication between editors and writers so that editors know the sources that information comes from. Whenever possible, the Daily should identify these sources so readers can evaluate their trustworthiness. Our reputation depends on our readers having confidence that they will find only the truth in the Daily.

 

— Jordan Schrader

Editor in Chief

 

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