Integrity 101 

Bravo to the staff of the Echo, the student newspaper of the University of Central Arkansas, for reporting the facts behind allegations of plagiarism in Log Cabin Democrat columns written by UCA journalism professor and vice president for communications Tommy Jackson. The Echo spoke up when others clammed up and called in the lawyers.

In mid-December, the Echo received what editor Robyn Green described as a “thick, thick packet” of documents from an anonymous source. The packet was also sent to the Log Cabin Democrat, and the UCA department of mass communications and theater, where Jackson taught journalism. Green said the packet contained numerous articles on music that Jackson had written for the Log Cabin Democrat, each highlighted and attached to a printout of a website. In many cases, Green said, text from those websites matched passages in Jackson’s articles word for word.

“There were articles where, if an article was 500 words long, 495 words would have been a direct copy,” Green said. “There was no doubt that that’s what it was. It was not kind of an iffy thing.”

Within 48 hours of receiving the packet, Green said Jackson phoned and invited him to come to his office. Once there, Green said, Jackson told him that he’d had a long conversation with Log Cabin Democrat publisher Scot Morrissey about the alleged plagiarism and that Morrissey had been in touch with the paper’s owners, Morris Communications of Augusta, Ga. Jackson told Green that Morrissey had conferred with the company lawyers, who had said his column was “safe.”

“The company lawyers had told him he could continue writing it,” Green said. According to Green, Jackson went on to say that he planned to sue the university for a “large monetary gain.”

At the time, the Echo was on hiatus between semesters. But in its first issue after the holiday, the paper broke the story, revealing that Jackson had been dismissed from his teaching duties in December, and had resigned his six-figure position with the university soon after. A replacement, former Democrat-Gazette editorial writer and columnist Kane Webb, has been hired for $92,000 a year.

On Dec.14, the Log Cabin Democrat published what has so far been Jackson’s last column, and their last word on the issue. In that column, Jackson wrote that while the Internet often provides him with source material, “I will be listing all my sources in this space, even if not necessary, just to eliminate any question.”

Reached at the Log Cabin Democrat, publisher Morrissey said he had no comment about Jackson’s column or the allegations of plagiarism.

While our attempts to contact Jackson have been unsuccessful, Jackson was quoted Jan. 26 in the Searcy Daily Citizen — where he once served as editor — as saying that he used the Internet as a source of “historical fact and data.”

“As the Echo story correctly says, several packets were sent to people, unsigned,” Jackson is quoted as saying. “I certainly wish someone had called me and talked to me about it. We all know how we think about unsigned letters. When I got unsigned letters at the Daily Citizen, I’d look at them then throw them in the wastebasket.”

Even a casual look at some of Jackson’s columns provides evidence of more than a writer mining the Internet for “historical fact and data.” Take this passage from Jackson’s Sept. 7, 2006 Log Cabin Democrat column on singer Billy Joe Royal:

Jackson wrote: “After success in both the country and pop fields, and a string of hits that stretches from the ’60s to the ’90s, it’s obvious that Billy Joe Royal is doing something right, and here is what we think it is: His R&B tinged tenor is still thrilling concert-goers in 2006; his tours still display the timelessness of high-powered showmanship; and his staying power remains a testimony to what happens when hard work and resilience are combined with natural talent.”

From Royal’s page at entertainment booking site www.grabow.biz: “After success in both the country and pop fields, and hits that stretch from the ’60s to the ’90s, it’s obvious that Billy Joe Royal is doing something right. More than 25 years since “Down in the Boondocks” put Royal on the map, his R&B tinged tenor is still thrilling radio listeners and concert-goers; his tours still display the timelessness of high-powered showmanship, and his staying power remains a testimony to what happens when hard work and resilience are combined with natural talent.”

The big dictionary that squats on a lectern in the corner of my office defines plagiarism as: “The appropriation or the imitation of the language, ideas or thoughts of another author, and the representation of them as one’s own original work.” Like Robyn Green and the staff of the Echo, I think the above definitely fits that bill.

Four score and seven years ago,
I wrote this column.




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