ABS Consulting Group, Inc.: Home | Blog | Resume | Speaking | Publications

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is it plagiarism? Or marketing? Or what?

One of the challenges I found teaching graduate students (mostly working professionals) was that their "WebIQ" was not as high as I expected. That is, they didn't know too much about assessing whether websites were authoritative, nor much about how to use content from the Web legally. Many were not, for example, familiar with Creative Commons licensing or Fair Use.

I think that's a valid topic for exploration, be it in a GIS class, a geography class or an English class. Here's a place to start. I ran across an article today titled GIS software helps Philadelphia replace traffic lights in public works project and save a cool million in Penton publication called GovPro. After I read it and saw the conspicuous links to an Esri video and website I wondered if it was a press release. Some media websites do not distinguish between releases and original content. I found no press release on this project in the last few weeks. I looked further and found a piece in Esri ArcWatch from Feb 2011 titled Esri Technology Helps Traffic Lights in Philadelphia "Go Green".

If you look closely, the GovPro article is heavily based on the ArcWatch one. (I'm being generous.) Among the slight changes in the GovPro version is the removal of the name of, and link to, the small Pennsylvania consulting firm on the project. Michael Keating has the byline on the GovPro article while longtime Esri staffer Jim Baumann penned the original.

Some questions for educators and students to consider:

Is this plagiarism? Why or why not?
Are there ethical issues to be considered?
What are Esri's press guidelines? Were they followed?
Is the article misleading? How?
What might GovPro have done to make the article more valuable? How could the Esri content have been cited?
Does GovPro run other articles like this? Is it a reputable news source? Why or why not?
What is the source of the image? Was it properly cited?