Will an ethical lapse haunt the ghostwriting profession?

A recent case of plagiarism has put practitioners in an awkward position. Over time, diligent adherence to attribution and other responsible behaviors can and should erase that blot.

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The mayor of Augusta, Georgia, recently came under fire for an opinion piece that carried his byline—a 700-word column about the value of retreats that was published in the Sept.13 edition of the Augusta Chronicle.

Some 300 words of that column, nearly half the piece, were borrowed without attribution from a blog post authored in 2013 by a Seattle-based organization development consultant.

In a press conference, the mayor accepted full responsibility but was also very clear about how this blatant act of plagiarism was committed on his watch and under his signature: The column was largely penned by outside contributors or, in his words, “multiple minds and voices.”

Augusta Chronicle staff opined in a Sept. 23 editorial that the situation was “deeply disappointing” and advised the mayor to discontinue using hired guns to produce his messages. After an open records request for city documents related to the column failed to illuminate the issue further, Chronicle staff published a second editorial and fired this shot over the bow: “The mayor’s vague explanations and the dead-end e-mail trail strain credulity.”

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