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Signal suspends local opinion columns after second columnist plagiarizes

Carole Lutness lifted paragraph, sentences from electronic journal article

Posted: December 28, 2009 1:36 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The Signal learned Monday a second columnist has recently plagiarized in at least one article, prompting editors to suspend all local opinion columnists.

An anonymous tip from a reader revealed that Carole Lutness, in her Nov. 9 column titled "Public education is a liberal value," copied an entire paragraph and some sentences, word for word and without attribution, from an electronic journal article published in 2001.

"It's plagiarism," admitted Lutness, a local Democratic activist. "I went to Google and I typed in ‘history of public education in the United States' and I took a paragraph from it. ... It was succinct and I was wrong."

"I'm apologizing to the public and to The Signal, and to the Democratic Party out here," she added.

She said the pressure of deadline compelled her to copy the work, and said she is not certain whether she has plagiarized in previous columns. Meanwhile, The Signal has removed all of her columns from its Web site.

Her admission comes days after a local blogger discovered Republican activist Lynn Vakay had plagiarized in another Signal column earlier this month.

Plagiarism is defined as passing off another's ideas as one's own, or using another's work without crediting the source, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Lutness lifted a paragraph describing Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on education from an article in the Journal of Literacy and Education in Developing Societies titled "A History of Public Education in the United States" by Deeptha Thattai.

"To say we're disappointed is an understatement," said Signal Managing Editor Lila Littlejohn. "We are responsible for what we publish, and these back-to-back revelations have sent us back to the drawing board to review our policies."

In the interest of reviewing the newspaper's Opinion Page policies and building in measures against plagiarism, Littlejohn said The Signal will cease publication of local columnists for a week, publishing only syndicated columns.

"We want to offer our readers a rich palette of local opinions on a variety of issues, especially local issues," Littlejohn said. "But we have to offer honest opinions, honestly presented, and apparently that goal hasn't always been realized."

On Jan. 6, local columns will resume with a sharpened focus and greater safeguards against plagiarism, she said.

"The ease of plagiarizing doesn't make it acceptable," Littlejohn said.

On Monday, Lutness said she suspects she isn't the only one.

"In this day and age of Google, you can find so much so easily and it's very easy to cut and paste," Lutness said.

"There's no excuse for it."


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