Boca Raton Tribune Suspends Reporter For Serial Plagiarism
Copy/paste makes plagiarism easy.
Photo by Dahn via Wikimedia Commons
The staff at FAU's student newspaper the University Press (UP) was shocked on May 16 when they discovered a reporter from the Boca Raton Tribune named Fred Hamilton had passed off a student's reporting as his own.
Student journalist Emily Bloch, who is also a freelance writer for New Times, had written an article on an alleged campus rape. Days later, the UP staff, looking for developments in the case, came across Hamilton's Tribune piece.
Hamilton had copied the meat of Bloch's story, but failed to attribute it to her or the UP.
"My managing editor pointed out that one line in the story looked familiar," Bloch said. "As I read further, I realized it was a lot more than one line. Three whole paragraphs were lifted from my story, down to the punctuation. I was furious, to be honest. He didn't even try to change anything. It was so blatant, it really made me angry. I'm the student and he's [supposed to be] the pro. What kind of example is that?"
Frustrated her work was being passed off as Hamilton's, she began to investigate more on him. However, the more she researched his name, the more elusive he became.
"I wanted to know who he was," Bloch said. "I couldn't find him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, couldn't find any bios online. I knew he had clips with the Tribune dating back to 2013, so this wasn't an intern we were dealing with — hell, even if it was, that wouldn't be an excuse."
Examining more of his work, she realized Hamilton had also copied cleverly worded passages, and in-depth reporting from both local and national publications, among them the Daily Beast.
"It was only logical that if Hamilton was bold enough to take so much out of my story and try to pass it off as his own, that he'd probably done it before," Bloch told New Times. "I kind of had a feeling that if I searched through his stories, I'd find him stealing from other student works and maybe some smaller dailies. I never thought he'd try for national publications."
She said students are taught to follow the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.
"A lot of those rules seem so 'no duh,' to me," Bloch said. "It was really upsetting to not only see a professional [break the code], but do it to a student. It felt like we were observing the code better than someone who was pulling in a paycheck for it."
Outraged by Hamilton's serial plagiarism, the UP staff contacted the Tribune, asking the local publication to "take the appropriate action for [Hamilton's] apparent violation of journalism ethics, including correcting the story to credit the UP as the original source of that particular information and perhaps adding a hyperlink to the UP article."
However, according to the UP there was no substantial response, leading Bloch to take the matter into her own hands. She called the Tribune office on May 21, and asked to speak with Fred Hamilton, but the receptionist apparently had no idea who he was. Bloch called again to speak with the paper's managing editor, Pedro Heizer, but only reached his voice mail.
Frustrated, Bloch then wrote a heated column on the UP's website.
"At FAU, if I get caught plagiarizing a paper, I'll get an F. It would go on my transcript and on the repeat offense, I could get expelled," so reads her opening line. "But if I do it at the Boca Raton Tribune, I'll get a paycheck."
Bloch screenshotted other articles he had lifted paragraphs from without providing any form of attribution.
The column prompted the Tribune to take enforcement action, suspending Hamilton while the publication's staff examined the integrity of his work.
“She brought up very good points,” Douglas Heizer, the publisher of the Tribune, told Rise: Miami News in response to Bloch's column. “We want to teach young people good journalism, and this [is] not the right way. After an investigation, we will decide whether to take down all of his articles.”
On May 26, the Tribune told New Times that Hamilton, who was described as an elderly gentleman, had, indeed, been suspended from submitting any further work. The Tribune also stated that his prior articles were removed from the publication's website last Friday, including the plagiarized piece on the the campus rape.
"People have been telling me things like 'Your column is going to get this guy fired.' No, Hamilton got himself suspended by doing shoddy journalism," Bloch concludes. "If it wasn't me that put the pieces together, it would've been someone else eventually. Maybe someone bigger and scarier than a five-foot-two college journalist."
Hamilton could not be reached for comment — New Times asked the Tribune for his contact information, which they have not provided.
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