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Mistakes made, lessons learned

On Aug. 27, 2013, Beach Metro News published an article that I submitted titled “Lessons from dark Beach history still apply.” The subject matter was important.

Eighty years earlier in August 1933, neo-Nazis had paraded on the Boardwalk from the Balmy Beach Club singing anti-Semitic songs and wearing swastikas. The entire matter was reported on the front page of the Toronto Telegram the evening of Aug. 1, 1933.

Two weeks later the famous Christie Pits Riots took place, which saw thousands end up in a street brawl with hundreds injured. In 2009, swastikas and white power slogans again appeared on the Boardwalk. They were spray painted on bricks, doors, and the boardwalk itself. There is no place for racism, hate, and violence in our modern multicultural city, which is why I felt the topic timely and important.

On July 19, 2009, blogger Alan Parker of the Toronto Sun published “5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Toronto.” His first item dealt with the same subject matter, namely the ugly incidents of Nazism taking place in Toronto following Hitler’s accession to power in Germany in January 1933.

In the course of my research, which included some textbook history and digital searching, I inadvertently cut and pasted a small portion of Mr. Parker’s blog into my final article. I did not clue in when I submitted it for publication to Beach Metro News. The matter was brought to the attention of the Beach Metro News editor by a reader six months later, in February 2014.

First and foremost, I apologize to Mr. Parker. The error was entirely mine and I accept full responsibility for it. Mr. Parker is a wonderful writer and my only explanation is that I inadvertently cut and pasted a portion as reference, and did not recognize my error when it found its way into my article. Nevertheless, the proper attribution of materials, the use of quotation marks when required, and providing credit to sources are standards in journalism, and falling below that standard is simply not acceptable. For this I apologize to our readers, as I am privileged to contribute to Beach Metro News which prides itself on its high standards and high level of journalistic integrity. While the paper’s management accepts that this was an honest mistake, they rightly put the integrity of the publication first and value public trust above all.

Mistakes are great teachers. To the many students, writers, readers and creators who read these pages, let me share the following. Living in a digital world of information, it has become too easy to cut and paste material and then lose track of your source, especially if you are hurried or tired. Digital information has revolutionized not just access to information but how that information is copied and used. A modern rule of thumb today is never cut and paste from another source to final copy. Rather, remember to use it only on a working copy, and always double check that attributions have been noted if appropriate.

Plagiarism is not just about copying the work but the intent of passing it off as your own. In some cases, substantive copying can result in claims of copyright infringement. And in many cases it can tarnish your reputation and bring your ethics into question. Teachers today use advanced software to identify similarity of writing, to ensure that a student is not stealing the ideas or substantive form of another writer. It is an easy tool for all writers to use as a fail-safe check, especially if you have written an essay or an article that drew from multiple sources. While there are perils to writing in a digital world, there are solutions as well.

Laurence J. Peter, the famous author of the Peter Principle, rightly noted that “the only thing worse than learning from experience is not learning from experience.”

1 Responses »

  1. It would be nice to have the two articles available side by side. Then readers could judge for themselves whether what you did amounted to inadvertently copying and pasting "a small portion of Mr. Parker’s blog". I came across the articles when they were both linked in a Facebook thread. In reading the second one, I had to ask myself, "Didn't I just read this article". In comparing the two, to a significant degree, they were virtually identical. People have been terminated from real writing gigs for less. The Beach Metro News should do the right thing and bounce you!

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