ASU student's plagiarism risks more than her own career

When a person becomes a journalist, they decide to take on a work ethic that is, in the simplest term, unbreakable.

As a journalist, it is their mission to give new, relevant and timely information to the public, and to know that the public trusts them in the gathering, writing and disseminating of that information.

This year, however, we have seen examples in which journalists have not performed their ultimate duty: Tell the truth.

Last month former New Yorker staffer Jonah Lehrer was fired from his job at Wired magazine for plagiarizing his past work and the works of others on multiple occasions.

Reporter Fareed Zakaria was accused last month of plagiarizing from others’ work, and was suspended while his work was reviewed and vetted by CNN and Time magazine. He was reinstated when the plagiarism was found to be an isolated incident.

And just this past week, ASU student Raquel Velasco was found to have plagiarized several of her articles written for ASU’s student newspaper, the State Press. The Phoenix New Times has also indentified her as an intern who plagiarized work at the East Valley Tribune.

The punishments in the first two cases may not be a surprise, but some might question why Velasco was punished to the extent she was, being fired from her job at the State Press. Whether she will still receive her degree from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism remains to be seen.

The East Valley Tribune has removed all articles under Velasco’s name from its website and the State Press is vetting all of her material to see what else she plagiarized.

Is the punishment too harsh? She is a student after all, someone who is learning and progressively improving after making mistakes. The State Press is a student paper, where students are supposed to be learning and perfecting their methods of practicing journalism.

As a student, she should be given some lesser punishment as a student, and not to the fullest extent as though she were a professional.

Unfortunately, this situation is past the point of return for several reasons.

Velasco is a senior and has essentially been through nearly the whole journalism program. The Cronkite School, like UA’s journalism school, has a zero tolerance policy for academic dishonesty. And like the UA, the Cronkite School has an entire course dedicated to ethics in journalism.

Velasco worked for the East Valley Tribune and State Press, both considered professional publications. Journalists writing for these publications, even students, agree to report and act as professionals working in the field, and are treated as such.

As in the Lehrer case, Velasco repeatedly and intentionally plagiarized work that was not her own. She had full knowledge of the severity and possible consequences of her actions were they discovered, as they were.

Journalism school had provided her with the means and the information regarding why not to plagiarize, how to avoid it and what would happen if a journalist committed plagiarism and was caught.

As a professional with additional training from university classes (which were generally not available to journalists before the last half century), Velasco had all the preparation she needed to work, report and write as a journalist.

And even with all of these preliminary factors, Velasco made a serious error in judgment when she decided to steal previously reported works from a variety of publications.

According to the Cronkite School’s informational page on plagiarism, journalists who do so violate two vital principles of the profession: honesty and accuracy.

By violating these principles, Velasco merited the punishment, as both a student and as a professional journalist. But her actions damage more than her academic and professional careers.
The media has been one of the least trusted institutions in the U.S. for the past few years, with 2011 figures showing public trust at 44 percent.

Incidents like Lehrer, Zakaria and Velasco’s acts further damage the credibility of the profession as a whole, and with these events happening as frequently and consistently as they have been for the past two months, it is hard to imagine that the media will regain the public’s trust anytime soon.

— Andres Dominguez is a senior studying journalism and political science. He can be reached at
letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.


Share this article