Copy-paste journalism – plagiarism in the media?

I have been working on a paper on dating for a while (hopefully ready for publication in summer), so I try to gather articles on the subject when they appear in the news I read. It so happened that the Economist published an article (Sex and Love: The modern Matchmakers) in its current edition (from 11 February 2012) reviewing a published journal article by Eli Finkel of Northwestern University. Finkel is assessing if online dating websites are as successful as they claim to be. Apparently she finds that there is no evidence for this.

After I consumed that article last weekend, I was stuck yesterday when another story on online dating appeared in the BBC online news – interestingly referring back to the same article by Finkel. And to make things worse, today the German edition of Spiegel Online published another article, again, refering to the same Finkel journal article.

Can it be coincidence – three news articles refering to the same academic paper?

Even though it is well possible that Holger Dambeck, the author of the Spiegel article, has not been aware of both the Economist and the BBC (and possibly other) articles, you cannot tell me that all of these media people scan (pretty random) academic journals and then cover the same one article within a few days. So, where does this leave us? How about plagiarism in the media?

Just to remind my readers: what is plagiarism? – It is the non-acknowledgement of the intellectual work of others. Neither the BBC nor the Spiegel article mention the Economist article. On top of that none of the three articles actually provides a proper reference (or even title) of Finkel’s article – at least in their online version! – Equally ridiculous is that the publisher of the journal does not have the current edition of the journal online either (as of today). The last featured edition is that of December 2011. Now you might wonder: 1. how did the Economist journalist even hear about the article? 2. how did he get hold of it (quite possible that the author provided it if he didn’t get it right from the publisher) and most importantly 3. have the BBC and Spiegel hacks ever read the original article or have they simply rephrased the original article by the Economist? Think about it.

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