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Don’t Buzz Me, Bro: Another Major Plagiarist Bites the Dust

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Why yes. He did go too far.

In what has to be one of the worst trends in journalism today, another national reporter has been fired for plagiarism. This time, it was BuzzFeed’s “Viral Politics” guy Benny Johnson.

This blow to the chronicles of credible reporting is particularly relevant because BuzzFeed also talks a big game regarding the benefits of its native advertising services. Yet here we are, discussing the copying and non-sourcing prowess of a once-respected reporter. Again.

When someone compliments a reporter (or even a blogger, just sayin’) on developing a great amount of original content, it is just that: high praise.

Yet the copy-and-paste happens more frequently than any of us in media (hack or flack) care to admit. And this isn’t the Poughkeepsie Journal or the Sioux Falls Times. We’re talking The New York Times, CNN, and Politico.

This report from the Los Angeles Times notes that BuzzFeed is only the latest.

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In a statement posted Friday, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said dozens of articles penned by reporter Benny Johnson contained “instances of sentences or phrases copied word for word from other sites.”

“We owe you, our readers, an apology. This plagiarism is a breach of our fundamental responsibility to be honest with you — in this case, about who wrote the words on our site,” Smith wrote. “Plagiarism, much less copying unchecked facts from Wikipedia or other sources, is an act of disrespect to the reader. We are deeply embarrassed and sorry to have misled you.”

This finding was not the result of any internal review; a blog post by two particularly savvy tweeters responded to Johnson’s own anti-plagiarism tweets by noting that he himself had lifted segments word-for-word from Wikipedia, The New York Times, Associated Press, the New Yorker, and the autobiography of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Smith’s response:

“Today, we are one of the largest news and entertainment sites on the web. On the journalistic side, we have scores of aggressive reporters around the United States and the world, holding the people we cover to high standards. We must — and we will — hold ourselves to the same high standards.”

Just as PR isn’t nearly as easy as so many seem to think it is, not everyone can be a real journalist. It takes a special set of skills: writing, research, storytelling and not blatantly ripping off someone else’s hard work as filler in your own material.

For those who ask whether Johnson deserved such a beatdown, remember: he started it.

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