Taking action

The Cavalier Daily explains its response to recently uncovered instances of plagiarism

Editors at The Cavalier Daily discovered last week a pending article that featured words and phrases copied verbatim from at least two other sources without attribution. Although this piece was caught before it was published, a subsequent investigation revealed that on at least three other occasions plagiarized work submitted by the writer in question had appeared on the pages of The Cavalier Daily. This revelation came as a shock to the paper's leadership, and the managing board believes that it owes staff and readers an explanation of what steps have been taken to address this unacceptable situation and prevent it from recurring.

Editors initially determined that a violation of the paper's plagiarism standards had occurred when an article was undergoing copy editing in preparation for publication last week. Because of The Cavalier Daily's strict stance against plagiarism, the article immediately was pulled until editors could verify the extent of the writer's error. Upon reviewing earlier pieces, it became clear that the writer consistently copied words and phrases from other sources including prominent news outlets, Wikipedia and a press release. The writer did not acknowledge these sources in any way, and used their words and phrases repeatedly throughout his articles. Editors determined that the writer did this in at least four articles, three of which were published.

These actions fall within The Cavalier Daily's definition of plagiarism, which is the unauthorized use of another source's words or ideas without citation. The paper's leadership views plagiarism as one of the most severe infractions a writer can commit, both because it shows a callous disregard for the rights of other authors and publications and because it undermines the credibility of The Cavalier Daily. Therefore, once it is established that a writer has breached the paper's standard for plagiarism he automatically is suspended or expelled from the staff. In this particular case, the writer's repeated violations meant that permanent removal from the staff was the necessary response. Furthermore, the paper reported the incidents to the Honor Committee.

The Cavalier Daily also dissociated itself from the plagiarized articles by removing them from the paper's website. This action was taken to assure readers and the victimized sources that the paper in no way aims to derive benefit from web traffic that could be generated from readers seeking out the articles for either informative or investigative purposes. Moreover, because the compromised content does not adhere to the paper's standards for publication it would be hypocritical to continue hosting it online under The Cavalier Daily digital masthead.

As egregious as these violations are, the paper's leadership hopes that its transparency with readers and staff members has reaffirmed The Cavalier Daily's legitimacy and integrity. It is unacceptable to editors at all levels that several plagiarized articles found their way to print in the past, but the discovery of the latest infraction prior to publication presents an example of the paper's editing process working exactly as designed. It is nearly impossible to catch every instance of plagiarism before it appears in print, as other esteemed student publications such as The Harvard Crimson and The George Washington Hatchet have discovered in recent years. Even The New York Times has not been immune. What distinguishes these papers - and The Cavalier Daily - from other, less credible sources, however, are the responses that are taken to shore up editorial procedure and sanction the parties responsible for the infractions.

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