TRRT experiences abother case of plagiarism

The Rock River Times strives for accuracy and the highest standards in journalism. We encourage our readers to point out any flaws in this area. One of them has done just that, and we appreciate his diligence, even though it leaves us in an embarrassing position—again.

In our Sept. 14-20, 2005 issue, guest columnist Daniel Sutherland wrote a column, “President’s response to Hurricane Katrina makes us look like fools.” Apparently, he had read a previous Rockford Register Star column by Executive Editor Linda Grist Cunningham that appeared on Sept. 4, 2005, titled “Officials’ disaster response should make us all angry.”

As reader Bill Burns pointed out, there are a number of similar phrases—in some cases, exactly word for word—in both columns. And as many readers know, our former sports and outdoor columnist Phil Pash resigned after an episode of plagiarism involving the Beloit Daily News.

Editor & Publisher Frank Schier called Dan Sutherland to inquire about what appears to be plagiarism in his column. Sutherland replied that he had not realized the many similarities in phrasing that he had incorporated in his own column. He told us that he had gone to West High School, then entered the armed services at age 16. He observed his 18th birthday while serving in Vietnam.

When informed about the rules on plagiarism, Sutherland sincerely apologized. “I’m not a professional guy,” he said. “I’m sorry–I didn’t know about that. I didn’t know nothing about all these writer things.” It was an unfortunate, but honest, mistake.

Editor Frank Schier contacted Executive Editor Linda Grist Cunningham at the Register Star. Informed of what happened, the lady was very gracious and understanding. “Don’t worry about it and move ahead,” she said. Thank you, Linda; your kindness and professionalism is much appreciated.

Sutherland had previously written two other columns for us: “A veteran’s view of the fall of Saigon in honor of Memorial Day,” published in the May 25-31, 2005 issue; and “A soldier died today,” about Vice Admiral James Stockdale, published in the July 13-19, 2005 issue.

The Rock River Times regrets the occurrence and, as always, looks to our readers to keep us accurate.

From Dan Sutherland:

Dear Mrs. Cunningham,

Please accept my sincere apology for using some of your sentences without giving you due recognition. I understand now after talking with Mr. Schier from The Rock River Times that I have inadvertently plagiarized your work by using some of your lines without quoting you. I’m sorry, Mrs. Cunningham, but I’m not a professional writer and did not know nor recognize that I was plagiarizing anyone’s work. What we know and do out here in the public is, we read and know what you all tell us in your articles and news. You are where we get our information, so in that regard we just quote and parrot what we see on the news and in the paper. I guess it’s not kosher to just imagine that once it’s put out in public, it then belongs to us to discuss as we see fit. You know? You write an article that becomes kinda like a blueprint for thought or a base for the thoughts out here, and it’s actually a base for public conversation. Your stuff gets parroted. But, obviously here I overstepped the rules, and I was wrong, and again, I apologize. The only other thing I can say is, I have no education in journalism or writing, Mrs. Cunningham, so I’m not aware nor skilled in all the rules of your profession. But I understand more now. And Ma’am, I really would like to continue writing to The Rock River Times. I know that I will get it right next time, Mrs. Cunningham. I hope you will forgive me, ma’am, and not be too upset. Truly, I didn’t try to steal your stuff. I just need a little more experience is all. I was asked by Mr. Schier if I hadn’t been taught about plagiarism in college or even high school when I was younger, and as much as I hate to admit it, I only went to my freshman year of high school and then joined the army. I turned 18 in Vietnam, so that was pretty much the end of my schooling as far as formal education goes. I’m a 100% disabled vet, and due to my condition, I never made it to college. Nevertheless, though, I do see how ethics plays into your field and expertise. Again, I should have given credit where credit is due, and I apologize. I didn’t realize all this stuff was needed. However, I am now aware of it, and I have been admonished and informed that what I need to do next time is cite the sentences and give credit to the author when using their work content. I understand now these are STRICT rules of the road in Journalism.

Please accept my utmost apology, and I really hope you understand that my intentions were sincere, and I wasn’t trying to capitalize or claim credit for what you wrote.



From the Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2005, issue

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