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Should Writers Be Allowed To Recycle Material?

Journalist and author Jonah Lehrer has come under media scrutiny this week after he was caught recycling his own writing from The Wall Street Journal for NewYorker.com, where he recently joined as a staff writer.

Media critic Jim Romenesko discovered that Leher had repurposed copy about how and why people respond incorrectly to a simple arithmetic question about the cost of a bat and a ball. Literary blogger Edward Champion found recycled material in Leher’s recent book as well.

Since Romenesko’s discovery, The New Yorker has updated the post with an Editors’ Note, which reads, “Portions of this post appeared in similar form in an April, 2011, post by Jonah Lehrer for Wired.com. We regret the duplication of material.” (It is also is an October WSJ story, as Romenesko points out).

Writers often develop ideas for books through magazine articles and use their same ideas in public speaking engagements, but the cross pollination of content in various media outlets raises questions about the ethics of self-plagiarism in journalism.

The Daily Beast points out that it is one thing to recycle your own writing for presentations, but it’s another to reuse it for another publication: “Lehrer is known to recycle material for his paid lectures—he gives dozens every year, maintaining a packed schedule that he’s described as ‘existentially sad.’ Yet representing that material as original in blog posts and newspaper articles is another matter, one that few editors—or competing writers—are likely to countenance.”

Should writers be able to reuse their own copy for different magazines?

UPDATE: Publishers Marketplace news editor Sarah Weinman published a statement from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lehrer’s publisher:

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