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Guardian to Reuters: Sorry for editing mistake

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In a case reminiscent of the legendary Fleet Street newspaper reporter’s trick of filing such stories as “I stood among the battle-scarred ruins of (pick up agencies)”, The Guardian has apologised to Reuters for an editing mistake that raised an allegation of plagiarism.

The daily acknowledged on Thursday that a
Guardian editor’s byline should not have appeared above a story based on a Reuters article. The newspaper added a footnote to the online version of a story on Tuesday headed Cisco Systems ends ZTE partnership. It said: “The byline on this article was amended on 11 October 2012. The original byline did not reflect that the article was substantially based on a Reuters story. A reference in the byline to agency copy, added by the staff journalist, was removed during the editing process.”

The byline now reads “Staff and agencies”. Until the correction, the byline was Charles Arthur,
The Guardian’s technology editor. But the piece was mostly the work of Reuters reporter Steve Stecklow, whose story on Monday was headed Exclusive: Cisco cuts ties to China's ZTE after Iran probe.

In an e-mailed response to questions from the Poynter Institute, a journalism school based in St Petersburg, Florida, Arthur said he had “second-sourced [the Reuters piece] as far as I could” and that he “spoke to Cisco and spoke at least once, possibly twice, to ZTE and obtained quotations from them about whether they would resell Cisco gear, plus a fresh quote about how they would cover this”.

Poynter said
The Guardian’s editorial code on bylines states: “The source of published material obtained from another organisation should be acknowledged, including quotes taken from other newspaper articles. Bylines should be carried only on material that is substantially the work of the bylined journalist. If an article contains a significant amount of agency copy then the agency should be credited.”

Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon said: “In reply to my question about whether the
Guardian considered Arthur’s piece to be plagiarism, Guardian ombudsman Chris Elliott bounced me to Guardian News & Media communications chief Richard Lindsay, who told me via a representative:

“The Readers’ editor has now investigated the allegation of plagiarism in relation to the story Cisco Systems ends ZTE partnership. The contract between Reuters and the Guardian allows us to use the agency’s copy at our discretion but ‘for substantial Reuter’s usage, credit ‘Staff and agencies’. Originally the staff reporter added ‘and agencies’ to the byline but this was lost, due to an error, during the editing process. It was never his, or anyone’s, intention to pass the story off as his own and the byline has now been amended in line with the guidelines and a footnote placed on the article making clear the story was based substantially on a Reuter’s story. In addition we have placed a correction to that effect online and the Readers’ editor hopes to tackle the issues in more detail in his Open Door column on Monday. The Readers’ editor has apologised to Reuters for the mistake.”

Footnote: An earlier version of this story was headed ‘Guardian to Reuters: Sorry for plagiarism’. It has been changed to make clear the newspaper acknowledged the editing error, not the allegation of plagiarism.

SOURCE Poynter Institute