Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Fragile Trust

At the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism conference last month there was an interesting juxtaposition of talks, some technology-related, but most not. In particular, the keynote sessions provided an array of ideas that I intend to follow up on.

Samantha Grant (right) in conversation with Teddi Fishman
Teddi Fishman (left) in conversation with Samatha Grant
On the last day of the conference, the programme opened with a keynote from Samantha Grant, a filmmaker based in San Francisco, who has made the feature length documentary A Fragile Trust, based on the serial plagiarist Jayson Blair, a journalist at the New York Times. The case, when it was discovered in 2003, was such a scandal that it brought down 2 NYT editors. The documentary features interviews with Blair, as well as with other journalists and editors who were caught up in the story.

During her keynote, Samantha played a number of clips from the film, which gave a great insight into the approach she has taken, and raises plenty of questions about ethics in journalism. I now am very keen to watch the full-length version, which may be coming to Netflix in the future.

At the very least, this documentary should be required viewing for all students of journalism. As part of the overall project, the company has also developed an online game Decisions on Deadline for journalism students, to teach ethical decision making. Lesson plans to accompany the game are coming soon.

But I think there are lessons to be learned for all of us involved in academic integrity when watching this film. The short clip below describes a scenario we are all familiar with.

I'm making a transition from the world of journalism to the world of academic, where some students use exactly the same approach as Blair. This points to a culture where we permit (perhaps even encourage) academic dishonesty. If the system does not have integrity, how can we expect it of our students?


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