Avoiding Plagiarism and Fabrication

Course Overview

Avoiding Plagiarism and Fabrication
Self-Directed Course
This $29.95 course is available free of charge thanks to the generous support of the Harnisch Foundation.
Time Estimate:
This course will take two to four hours to complete.

About Self-Directed Courses

In a self-directed course, you can start and stop whenever you like, progressing entirely at your own pace and going back as many times as you want to review the material.

Plagiarism and fabrication are among the most serious ethical breaches in journalism. In addition to ethical concerns, plagiarism and fabrication can also cause legal trouble.

Yet, no matter how high an organization's standards may be, year after year, credibility-destroying scandals surface. Some of the most respected news organizations in the country and around the world have been caught up in plagiarism or fabrication scandals. These include The Washington Post, National Public Radio, The New York Times, the Guardian, CNN, the New Yorker and the BBC. No news organization can regard itself as immune. These scandals damage and destroy both promising new careers in journalism and veteran journalists' legacies. All too many plagiarists and fabricators have deliberately misled their editors, producers and audiences.

Yet, for those who wish to have no association between their work and plagiarism or fabrication, avoiding the violations requires an understanding of how little it takes to cross the line. Sometimes, journalists or editors disagree about what constitutes plagiarism and fabrication. Individuals can publish what turns out to be plagiarized work unintentionally, putting their reputations at risk. Journalists and other authors seeking to boost their audience or improve the visual or audio quality of their work can, without meaning to, stray into fabrication with heavy-handed edits, re-enactments or too-vigorous retouching. Authors relying on contributors can be swept into plagiarism or fabrication scandals through the association of their names with works that incorporate plagiarized or fabricated elements.

The course will educate journalists, authors, editors, news producers, students, educators and news consumers about what plagiarism and fabrication are, why they are so toxic and how to avoid them. This course also will help editors and producers, as well as educators, detect and root out plagiarism and fabrication.

Want to use this course in your classroom this semester? Learn more about how to include this in a Digital Course Pack for your students.

What Will I Learn:

On completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Define plagiarism and fabrication
  • Explain the differences among plagiarism, fabrication, copyright infringement and accidental factual errors
  • Identify the risks of plagiarism and fabrication to credibility and to individual careers
  • Understand the harms plagiarism and fabrication cause to organizations and professions and to the broader public
  • Develop best practices and strategies to avoid committing plagiarism and fabrication
  • Consider, devise, communicate and enforce organizational guidelines and protocols to prevent, detect and respond to plagiarism and fabrication
Who should take this course:
  • Journalists, news producers, journalism students, bloggers, social media users, authors and others who wish to learn about and avoid plagiarism and fabrication in their own work
  • Editors, newsroom managers, those responsible for online content and journalism educators who want to develop and communicate best practices to avoid plagiarism and fabrication in their organizations, classrooms and websites

Course Authors:

Geanne Belton

Geanne Belton is a professor of journalism at City University of New York's Baruch College and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a faculty associate at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Geanne directs the Harnisch Journalism Projects, specializes in online education, and teaches news and digital literacy, journalism, and media law and ethics. An attorney and journalist (previously writing under the byline Geanne Rosenberg), Geanne is a graduate of Columbia University's Schools of Journalism and Law (where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar), and Bryn Mawr College.

Ruth S. Hochberger

Ruth S. Hochberger, a lawyer and journalist, was editor-in-chief of The New York Law Journal for 12 years. She has taught reporting, and media law and ethics to undergraduate and graduate students for the past 14 years at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, New York University, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and New York Law School. A graduate of Barnard College, she received a J.D. from Boston College Law School, where she was on the Law Review.


Jane E. Kirtley

Jane Kirtley is the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, and directs The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. She was Executive Director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C. for 14 years. Before that, she practiced law in New York and Washington, D.C., and was a reporter for newspapers in Indiana and Tennessee.


This course was created by Geanne Belton, in a collaboration between Baruch College and the Poynter Institute.

Baruch College's Weissman School of Arts & Sciences features New York City's only undergraduate journalism department housed in a public college or university.

The Harnisch Foundation
This course was created thanks to the generous support of the Harnisch Foundation.