Letter to the Readers


In our last issue, we ran an opinion column (“History lesson: Hurdle failures to win the race of success”) by Rohit Anand, a first-time writer for the newspaper. A day after the issue printed, we were given a tip that his column was not completely original. We immediately took the column off our Web site and looked into the tip. It was true: over half of Anand’s column came from a motivational speech available online. There was no indication in his column that his words were anything other than his own. That’s plagiarism.

We arranged a meeting with Anand. As it turns out, he is well aware of plagiarism guidelines for academic purposes, but unaware of the requirements for newspapers. He had condensed the column from a speech he wrote in his home country of India nearly a year ago – a speech backed up by a note card with the sources of his speech illustrations. That sourcing didn’t make it into the condensed version we requested. After a discussion of what our expectations were, he apologized and promised to not make the same mistakes. He desperately wants to keep writing.

This is a difficult decision for us. We at The Collegian have done our utmost this year to give you a newspaper with real news you could trust. Thus, our credibility is sacred to us. News organizations tend to have a zero-tolerance policy toward plagiarists, and it would be easy to fire Anand, fearing his mistake harms the good name for which we strive.

But after much thought and discussion, we’ve decided that would not be the appropriate thing to do. First, his lack of knowledge of newspaper standards is our failure. The Collegian has not required prospective writers to read and sign any code of conduct before they’re allowed to work. It’s not fair for us to expect our writers to meet standards we haven’t clearly explained. That changes now. A code of conduct has been in the works, and it will be implemented this week. All of The Collegian members will be expected to read and agree to it.

Second, The Collegian is a student newspaper. We are a place to learn and practice the craft of journalism, the role of the media, and yes – media ethics. Anand’s learning experience will not be enhanced if his first column is his last. Instead, he is on probation. He’ll be closely trained by his editor and will be allowed to write columns that will be closely fact-checked. If everything checks out, and his editor approves, his column will reappear in The Collegian in April.

Sadly, we have neither the staff nor the resources to fact-check everything in every article and column before we go to print. Few newspapers do. There is an inherent trust that reporters and columnists will do their job with integrity. We need to build that base of trust in our staff, as well.

This is our promise to you: We will make it clear to those who work for this paper what is expected of them and we will continue to tighten up the editing process so writers are kept accountable to their sources, their editors and the truth itself.

Your trust in us demands nothing less.

Jeremy FuglebergEditor-in-chiefDenise WattNews editorOpinion/editorial editor