When I was still teaching high school English, I used to get occasional research papers with the URL from which the words had been stolen printed at the bottom. I don’t know if the students thought I was a complete idiot, if they were used to teachers giving a B+ to anything with more than one page to it, or if they were actually completely deluded. Lazy is more likely, really. And don’t think it was the lower-level kids who did it more. My AP classes were usually most guilty of this type of transgression. And this was after introductory units about research and plagiarism – with dire warnings of Zeroes and Calls Home.
Sometimes the slightly less lazy kids would cut and paste – even occasionally making sure the fonts matched. And oh! the dismay when they received my exasperated and sarcastic responses* (I am sure more than one parent was horrified – horrified! – at my comments) showing that I, too, understood Google search.
In both my Journalism and AP Language classes I had lessons using the students’ indiscretions (no worries, names removed) to demonstrate the difference between citation and plagiarism. And many of the students truly didn’t understand why they couldn’t just use information they had “found” – as though finders-keepers counted. And really, considering the Stars and Stripes standing at stiff attention on the Moon and the less-than-altruistic expectation of reward when we return a lost item to its owner, who can blame them?
The art of research is quickly sinking into oblivion. On-line news sites scramble to get the “news” out FIRST – no matter if it’s true. They can always edit it later (without acknowledging said edit). Reporters, supposedly the bastions of facts and ethics, have been faking sources and stories and events for as long as they’ve been writing. We just shame them more now. Although, some newspapers actually provide appropriate apologies and explanations. And major websites, and minor blogs, think nothing of re-publishing entire stories (or the most interesting tidbits) from other sites – with a buried link to the source – to keep readers on their own sites and with their advertisers.
When a story is well-researched, it shines. It answers questions the reader didn’t know she had. With the 24-hour at-your-fingertips news we have today, emphasis is on getting information out first, quickest, and often with quirky and irreverent headlines that have little to do with the subject and everything to do with attracting the click.
Not everyone has the same dismal outlook as I do. The fine folks over at NJ News Commons are hosting Hack Jersey – an event designed to allow coders and journalists a chance to move news forward instead of down. I’d take part if I had any idea what a “hackathon” was and whether I could offer anything to the projects. I seriously doubt I could, but I’m interested to see what comes out of it.
And my despair over the neglected Art of Research sometimes is lightened. These Internets so many call home sometimes encourages stumbling upon hopeful tidbits like the spectacular Quote Investigator. If you’re trying to remember what research looks like, visit this fantastic site to see research in action. You’ll get lost in this site, I think. Here’s just one example with Age as Mind over Matter. They’re on Twitter, too.
* Just one of the many reasons I’d never last teaching out here in Suburbia