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Beat reporter returns to work after being suspended for plagiarism

by on November 11, 2015

After nearly a month of suspension from the San Francisco Chronicle for copying a team press release of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, beat reporter Rusty Simmons returned to work on Monday following reviews completed by the newspaper. Simmons was suspended in October for writing an almost identical copy of the team’s release saying that they plan to move their stadium to San Francisco and that the land for the stadium had been purchased. More importantly, the newspaper began to review their sports reporters’ work for other instances of plagiarism. The review ended in editor Audrey Cooper finding “a handful of instances in which we published verbiage taken from press releases.” Cooper did not give any specific examples.

When news first broke that Simmons was suspended last month, Deadspin found examples of work that had been almost directly copied by the beat reporter, and even one done by the newspaper’s sports editor, from team press releases which neither had been suspended for. Interestingly enough, the Chronicle has had many two instances of misquoting sources in both April and June of this year. Although misquotes are different than plagiarism, it is fascinating that one media outlet has been having this many occurrences of faulty journalism. To combat these issues and hopefully prevent further suspensions, the Chronicle will be having an ethics workshop in January with Ed Wasserman, the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.

The journalistic integrity of not only Simmons but the entire sports writing staff at the Chronicle can be questioned for the lack of ethical decision making in these cases. This questioning includes the decision to allow Simmons to return to work not even a month removed from being suspended for blatant plagiarism. If it happened one time, then I believe that the newspaper could allow Simmons back to doing his job; however, he has plagiarized Warriors’ press releases on more than one occasion. To allow someone that has failed to do his job ethically is not someone that should continue to have a job for that same media outlet.

I think the main journalistic ethical dilemma in this case is whether or not Simmons, or anyone who plagiarizes another outlet’s work, should be able to return to work for the same company. This is not something that can be taken lightly, as stealing someone else’s work goes against everything that journalism ethics stands for.

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3 Comments
  1. I agree, I find it inappropriate that a news organization who found one of their writers work enormously plagiarized was barely penalized and brought back to the company soon after. Plagiarism is one of the largest problems and ethical dilemmas that journalists face today, and I believe it needs to be approached in this way. This writer obviously knew what he was doing when he copied another article labeling it his own, therefore going against everything journalism stands for. I believe this writer should have lost his job after this.

  2. You’re right; this isn’t something to be taken lightly, considering all of a journalist’s work is based off of accuracy, and the fact that we are writing our own stories, not stealing them from something like a press release.

    I think that the reporter definitely should have lost his job as a result of this incident, just because this does go against everything journalism stands for. Though this may not seem like an important story, but that doesn’t matter. Plagiarism is plagiarism, and that’s not something our journalists should be doing. It’s hard to say that this should ruin someone’s career, but it should definitely make an impact and I think the publication should have gone into the issue more. If they found similar stories of Simmons’, what were they? Can they share them? Were there actually a lot? I have a lot of questions regarding the incident, and instead of Cooper brushing some off, they should have gone more in depth. If Simmons lost his job, maybe this would send a message to journalists and say this isn’t what we do.

  3. I completely agree that the journalist shouldn’t be allowed to return to work after committing what is considered the cardinal sin of journalism, especially returning to the same beat. There are enough quality reporters that it would be almost effortless to replace Simmons and send a message across the industry that plagiarism is unacceptable. This slap on the wrist of a punishment isn’t much greater than a speeding ticket.

    Also I believe that the editorial team at the San Francisco Chronicle needs to be held to a higher standard in fact checking their reporters. A simple google search could have caught these egregious acts well before they were brought to press. Well it is admirable that they were able to catch and acknowledge the mistake after the fact, it is simply not enough.

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