Sunday, December 09, 2007

Journalism scholars fail the test

Guy Berger: CONVERSE

Spot the difference:

… Two areas of new interest are in the fields of business magazines and technology. Business Today, Business World, the Economic Times, and Technocrat, launched fairly recently, are doing well ... Bhutan, with less than 1 million population, can now boast of publishing its own national newspaper.
Authors: Anju Chaudhary and Anne Chen, in the book Global Journalism, third edition, 1995 (pages 278 and 281)

… Two areas of new interest are in the fields of business magazines and technology. Business Today, Business World, the Economic Times, and Technocrat, launched fairly recently are doing well… Bhutan, with less than 1 million population, can now boast of publishing its own national newspaper.
Authors: Jiafei Yin and Gregg Payne, in the fourth edition of Global Journalism, 2004 (pages 354 and 355)

There is supposed to be a difference. The second excerpt suggests that what happened prior to 2004 (the fourth edition) was the same as almost a decade earlier (the third edition). Worse, the later work should also have identified where the information came from.

There are at least a dozen items of information in the popular Global Journalism textbook, all lifted without update or credit regarding the original authors' research. These are serious issues in academic scholarship -- and in journalism.

One of the original authors, Anju Chaudhary, is sore about Yin and Payne, but she's even more aggrieved with the publishers, Pearson Education, and with the book's editors -- United States scholar John Merrill and South African academic Arrie de Beer. Seen from her point of view, the two editors neglected to spot, or stop, the use of her research without either crediting her or properly updating it.

The problem is that no one will acknowledge any wrong in what happened.

Chaudhary says that despite herself having co-authored the Asian chapters in both the second and third editions of the book, she was not invited to do the fourth. Instead, Yin and Payne were commissioned. This week, Yin former referred queries to the publishers; Payne ignored two emails on the issue.

On its part, Pearson has written to Chaudhary, claiming that it is the author and copyright holder, and under "no obligation" to attribute the material to her. For good measure, it adds that this would be inappropriate anyway because the material had been "revised".

Yet parts of the fourth edition show no updating at all. One instance is the passage: "Today (sic) 146 daily papers are published in the country (Bangladesh -- GB) ... presently (sic) there are approximately 242 weeklies ...". Taken verbatim from the 1995 (third) edition, these facts are presented as still current in 2004.

Despite such problems, Pearson's website proclaims that the fourth edition has been "almost entirely rewritten". Contacted for this article last week, the company replied it would not disclose "proprietary information".

Chaudhary is particularly unhappy about the book's co-editor De Beer, who she says brushed off her concerns during a meeting in the US where she raised the matter.

"He just listened and said that Dr Chaudhary has already heard from the publisher, who stated that the copyright belongs to the publisher. That's all he had to say. I think it is extremely unethical and highly unprofessional on his part ..."

De Beer is an older-generation media academic in South Africa, and is described in a forthcoming version of his journal Ecquid Novi as having been "an inspiration to younger generations of scholars".

In an article last year he described plagiarism as one of the "ethical scandals" facing journalism and journalism education.

He is a part-time "extraordinary professor" at Stellenbosch University's journalism school, whose website states: "Plagiarism is stealing other people's words and ideas and making them appear to be your own." Students are advised that a plagiarism offence will prevent them graduating.

Told about the problem, the head of the Stellenbosch department, Professor Lizette Rabe, said: "I am shocked by the allegations, especially in the light of the strict copyright policies we have in our department -- a basic principle in an environment and industry in which words are the 'currency', and where integrity and credibility are the foundation of our profession."

But emailed last week for his side of the story, De Beer replied (his original in Afrikaans): "I really don't know where you fall out of the bus with this business ... In case you and/or the person concerned continue with the case, and bring my good name into disrepute, I will be compelled to take the necessary steps against you, and if necessary the publication involved."

Co-editor Merrill failed to reply to email queries.

De Beer is a man who once loyally served the apartheid-era South African Broadcasting Corporation board, and was later reported to have told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: "I did not know. I remained silent when I should have protested."

There is no self-criticism in this case, although he and Merrill either missed or condoned the shoddy scholarship by Yin and Payne. Compounding that problem now is reluctance to account for the matter.

Coincidentally last month, Merrill was dropped as a contributor to the Missourian newspaper. He was caught out for having appropriated other people's words without acknowledgement in at least six of his columns.

The US scholar is the original (sole) author of Global Journalism, which the Pearson website boasts as having "established itself over 20 years as a trusted authority on international media".

At least as regards his Missourian misdemeanour, Merrill is reported to have acknowledged the problem and described his action as carelessness.

But in relation to Global Journalism, none of the parties has taken the ethical step of admitting culpability. Their book continues to be prescribed around the world, no doubt earning tidy sums for all.

Meanwhile, Chaudhary's complaints run into a stonewall, her contribution to knowledge remains uncredited and outdated information has been passed off as if it were contemporary.

In a late response to the column, Merrill commented:

I didn't oversee any article in the fourth edition. Arnold De Beer did all the editing; I never saw the Asia section (or any other) prior to publishing. I had heard about the charge. My reaction to the original authors would probably be something this: I was on a tight deadline, extremely busy, had faith in the new writers, and simply did not read the new version carefully enough (with comparison to earlier edition). Hope this will help. I have great faith in De Beer and know that it was simply an oversight on his part if there were any overlap between the two editions.

In the meantime, without De Beer or Pearson being big enough to step forward, Chaudhary still sits without an apology.

credit :

No comments: