Writer Wednesday Entry #2: Plagiarism, the Story Siren’s Offenses, and What Lessons We Can Learn From It

Hi all.  I’ve been busy catching up on my books and reviews that I haven’t done many theme related entries, but I thought for my second entry in the theme of “Writer Wednesday”, I’d highlight a controversy that’s been rocking the blogging community as of late, involving an issue that does more to get under my skin than anything else.  To be honest, I’m surprised there are so many people who aren’t more upset by this considering how significant an issue it really is, particularly pertaining to writers and writing as a collective whole.  I was going to wait until my Soapbox Saturday entry originally to do this entry, but I figured I would highlight this incident and use it as a constructive subject to speak on in larger context for the writing community.

I’ll start this entry by saying there are a great many fears that a writer has to face in the industry.  Some of them can range anywhere from Writer’s Block to anxiety about releasing their first major work out into the world, whether it be a published piece of fiction or simply posting an opinion piece about a contentious issue for the world to see.  One of the fears that we shouldn’t have to deal with – speaking as a writer – is having the power over our own words and expressions.  I think one of the most powerful tools that a writer has at their disposal are their words, as well the right to use their words the way they see fit.  It’s an extension of our selves, ideals, experiences, among other dimensions of our expressions.  Even when we learn about things from various primary and secondary sources, it’s important to give credit where credit is due in order to show where we learn and gather our information from, if it’s outside the realm of our own experiences first-hand.

Bearing that in mind, I want to talk about the subject of plagiarism.  I’m sure that some of you have heard about the incident rocking the blogosphere as of late regarding one of the biggest YA bloggers in the community – The Story Siren a.k.a. Kristi Diehm – lifting several posts of content from other blogs without giving due credit.  If you haven’t read about this particular incident, there are quite a few places where you can read about it at length.  Smart Bitches did a eloquent summary of events, and the blogs affected by The Story Siren’s actions – Beautifully Invisible and Grit and Glamour – also summarized the plagiarizing offenses committed.   You’ll note that the offenses were actually from well back in January of this year, but no one really took notice of it until now – likely because the blogging sources The Story Siren took from were fashion blogs and not book blogs.

Suffice to say, when they blew up, they exploded, rocking the blogging community as well as Twitter.  It shook me when I heard about it, because, while I wasn’t a regular follower of The Story Siren’s memes and blog, I knew of her influence and respected her for what she’d done for the YA book blogging community at large.  And she was – at one point – a strong advocate against plagiarism as evidenced by quite a few eloquent posts she’d written on the very matter.

Suffice to say, if I’m expressing my own perspective of the whole shebang – I don’t know where she stands now, aside from the apologies she’s issued publicly.  I’ll post them below as screencaps to let you judge for yourself on the matter.  The first one doesn’t really state the offense, but the second is a bit clearer (though not by much).

This was the original entry penned by The Story Siren (though amended slightly after comments were made on various social networks. Comments were closed at the time of this screencap. Source: The Story Siren blog (I'm not linking to her posts for personal reasons)
This post was penned April 24th, 2012 on The Story Siren's blog as a follow-up to the original apology. While she's clearer about having lifted content from the two bloggers, there's some criticism that her apology here still seemed at odds. Source: The Story Siren blog

I could go into lengths just how contentious the social media interaction about this matter has become – but that would be aside from the original point of offense (and hence the subject of this post).  Instead, I’m going to take the time to point out a few things.

First and foremost, we reside in a society where the more social venues that are open to us, the more likely we are to share knowledge and content.  This does not absolve us from observing proper citations where they are necessary.   It’s proper decorum – no matter in what venue you’re writing – to cite where you gather your ideas from if it’s not taken from your first hand experiences or knowledge.  Heck, it’s not just proper, it’s what you need to do because to neglect it otherwise – if you lift content from another source and you don’t cite it, you are plagiarizing.  If you find an interesting topic on another blog or another source – share that source – reference it.  Even if you’re writing about it in your own words or paraphrased from said source, still cite the source anyway.  It gives credit where credit’s due to the source that took the time to compile the information on that topic, and even if they aren’t the primary source of that information, even if the post they gather was from yet another source stating the same information – people need to detail their sources of content when referencing from other sources, even if it might be common sense.  It’s just that simple. There’s no excuse otherwise.

If you do not know what plagiarism consists of, there are plenty of sources on the web that can educate you on the matter.  Search them out and learn them now – it will save you a great deal of trouble and heartache in the long run.

Or actually, for anyone who wants to peruse them at this time, I’ll include a few of my favorite links on the matter:

What is Plagiarism from Plagiarism dot Org

Another great plagiarism pamphlet from the UNC College of Arts and Sciences

Grammar Girl’s awesome post/podcast on Plagiarism

A very cool flash presentation on the subject of plagiarism

For the visually apt, I’ll include a video.  This is one I found on Youtube that’s short and sweet from a library at a university I think.

If Schoolhouse Rock had ever done a song on Plagiarism, I’d totally link that (unfortunately, no such creation exists to my knowledge =/).

The Story Siren/Kristi could’ve avoided all this if she’d actually just included a simple link back (and proper quotations) to the sources she took from, considering the time she spent on those blogs and accessed the content of them.  Granted, if you take a close look at the posts that do the comparisons between The Story Siren’s posts and the original content she took from, she reworded and reworked many of the contents of the original posts, but made it off as if it were all her own knowledge.  On several different occasions.  That’s inexcusable and quite blatant.  Contrary to what she claimed, her actions were not accidental or a simple “mistake” – it was intentional.  If she were a university student or even a high school student where they had an honor code in place – she would either fail for the content or worse, been kicked out of the institution.  If we teach our children, teens and young adults in our educational systems that it’s wrong to steal another’s ideas and work, why is it that – in the working world, we can’t hold others accountable for when they do the same thing?  The EXACT same thing?

And if I may cite something that’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine – all the people who say that  no idea is ever completely original – that’s complete and utter B.S. to use as an argument against the act of plagiarism.   We gain ideas from the larger world around us all the time, true, but it’s never a bad thing to mention where we gained the ideas or what we were inspired by, especially if it’s from a specific source.  Just because nothing’s completely original doesn’t mean we should neglect or exclude credit the people, places, and things in our world that we learned from, because it gives credence to where others can learn from and they themselves may be able to make their own interpretations for themselves.  It could be argued that the originality comes from how we synthesize the knowledge that exists out there and interpret the world through our own eyes and experiences.  Trying to pass off another person’s way of interpreting the knowledge and world around around them as your own without due context is wrong.  It’s cheap, it’s lazy, and it’s wrong.  It lacks respect for the peers who have drawn those conclusions and made their own connections with the knowledge that is out there.

The Story Siren/Kristi may choose to continue her own endeavors from here on out, and whether people continue to peruse her content is up to their discretion.  But unfortunately, this particular incident in the blogging community is a difficult blow and it takes a chunk out of her credibility for times to come, as well as calls into question her other content from the past.  Time will have to determine whether she can be trusted again to put forth her own honest words and sentiments on the things she perceives in the world around her.  I hope she can, if even for the sake of the people who have established trust in her words – because as I mentioned – a writer’s words are one of their most powerful tools.  If you take other people’s words without giving them credit, you not only cheat them – you cheat the power of your own voice.  

That’s all for this Writer Wednesday entry.  Thanks for reading and until next entry – I hope everyone fares well in their endeavors, writing or otherwise.

Cheers,

Rose

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2 comments

  1. Well said… thank you for sharing your thoughts. When it all hit the fan earlier this week, I was in total shock and so disappointed. Particularly given that just days before I had just sent an aspiring book-blogger to TSS for inspiration and to her blog tips page for advice.

    What TSS did was wrong on so many levels — the act itself and then all the non-apologizing and non-clarification afterwards. Yet, I genuinely feel badly that this will affect her credibility for a long time to come. Unfortunately there is a price to be paid for the bad choices and actions we take.

    Like

    • Indeed, melsbookshelf – consequence comes with many of the actions that we take in general. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post.

      Like

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