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Posted on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 5:30 a.m.

U-M student accused of plagiarism sues Michigan Daily for defamation, emotional distress

By Juliana Keeping

A University of Michigan student accused by fellow student newspaper employees of plagiarism is taking the paper and her former colleagues to court, suing for defamation and emotional distress.

U-M student Julie Amanda Rowe suffered extreme emotional distress after being accused of plagiarism at The Michigan Daily, according to the lawsuit filed Feb. 4 in Washtenaw County Circuit Court. She resigned from her position as an editor there in order to avoid being fired, the lawsuit says. Rowe took time off school following the incidents, which occurred in the winter of 2009, but returned to the Ann Arbor campus this fall.

Rowe's lawyer, Arthur Butler of Plymouth, said Rowe wanted to be a journalist, but those aspirations have changed.

Thumbnail image for Michigan-Daily-building.jpg

The Michigan Daily has offices on the first and second floors of the Stanford Lipsey Student Publications building

Angela Cesere |

The suit maintains Rowe did not plagiarize and asks for a jury trial and more than $25,000 in damages. The lawsuit names the University of Michigan, the student-run newspaper and editorial employees Gary Graca, Jacob Smilovitz and Courtney Ratkowiak as defendants. It also charges that Rowe's due process rights were violated.

Smilovitz, the current editor in chief, said the Daily has hired legal counsel.

"Since this is an ongoing litigation matter, our attorneys have asked that I don't comment at this time," he said.

Neither Graca or Ratkowiak could be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Daily has hired Detroit-based lawyer Herschel Fink to represent it and the individual students, said Fink, who declined to comment on the case.

U-M lawyers will file a response separately on the university's behalf, though it isn't clear whether U-M can be sued over actions that occurred at the independent, student-run newspaper, which is funded entirely by advertising sales and employs no journalism adviser.

The accusation of plagiarism stemmed from an article compiled by Rowe in February 2009 for the paper's weekly "In Other Ivory Towers" column, an aggregation of higher education news from news sources across the country. A March 4, 2009, editor's note posted online and linking to Rowe's Feb. 1, 2009 article states the piece cited sources verbatim without using quotes and that "The Daily no longer stands by this content."

"This implied the material was paraphrased when, in fact, it was not," Graca, the editor in chief at the time, wrote in the editor's note. The note also credited the writer for "two years of prolific writing at the Daily," and noted she had resigned. The Michigan Daily also ran a front page article March 5 that reiterated broken trust through plagiarism, according to the lawsuit. Like the editor's note online, it did not name Rowe.

The lawsuit said the campus paper had experienced problems with plagiarism prior to the incident involving Rowe.

U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald called the dispute unfortunate.

"The Michigan Daily has a long history of independent journalism on the campus of the University of Michigan, and it's unfortunate that this disagreement has occurred," he said. "We certainly hope for a quick and appropriate resolution."

Juliana Keeping covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

@clarencecromwell wrote, "The standards and practices are passed from one generation to the next verbally; it's the only remaining craft that we learn by standing elbow to elbow with our elders." That's exactly how I feel. At my college newspaper back in the '80s, we learned so much from our advisers. They were crusty former reporters...we never saw them as "the man," spies for the university, or whatever. They never wanted to censor us, they only wanted us to write and report better and make mature decisions about managing the newspaper. They shared stories about the field and opened our eyes to things that a 22-year-old outgoing senior "elder" would have no clue about. The instructor I learned the most from, the paper's adviser in my senior year, didn't have his doctorate, but he had worked on a large metro paper for many years. Good journalism is a learned craft, period. That said, I respect the passion of the articulate @formerD, and the fact that the students take their role as publishers of an independent daily newspaper so seriously and have no tolerance for plagiarism. (By the way, three words? There's zillions of common three word-phrases repeated all the time!) As someone else mentioned, don't put your byline on news digest stories as you did not write the content (and if you do at the Daily, you're going to spend a lot of time examining three-word sequences throughout the piece!).

Tom Teague

Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

@former - Impressive list of Daily alumni. We should add Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post to it. He won a Pulitzer in 09 for Commentary. Given the context of the story that Ms Rowe wrote - a digest of news that is admittedly lifted from other sources is a common journalistic practice - something short of firing and a public airing of the issue would have been more appropriate. Also, Tony Dearing did re-post the comments that he pulled from this thread yesterday. I've never seen any evidence that he or anyone else at pulls comments that they just don't like (unless he has a strong masochistic streak and actually enjoys the invective that's sometimes thrown at him). I may disagree from time to time about how staff members interpret the published guidelines, but that's to be expected in a *moderated* forum.


Thu, Mar 18, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

The Daily has been student run for many years, and has been a successful tool for students wishing to try their hand at journalism. Some of the most esteemed journalists in the country are graduates not only of the University of Michigan, but also of The Michigan Daily. Daily alumni include Tom Hayden, Mike Wallace, Daniel Okrent, Rich Eisen, Anne Marie Lipinski, Josh White, and Michael Rosenberg to name a few. Though those are some of the more famous names, newspapers and magazines across the country are filled with Michigan Daily alums. Faculty adviser or no faculty adviser, the Daily is doing something right. If you talk to any student that works at the Daily now or worked there in the past, one of the things everyone is most proud of is the quality of the paper that is released each and every day, especially with no faculty or University of Michigan oversight. The Daily will hopefully continue to be independent of the University of Michigan as on many occasions this has allowed the Daily to question the University without fear of any type of punitive action, such as loss of funding. Before filing this lawsuit, my guess is that the lady filing this claim was quite proud of the Daily's independence as well. She is now using this lack of faculty/University oversight simply as a means to her financial gain. While the dictionary definition of plagiarize is fairly broad, all students that attend the University of Michigan are reminded on a constant basis that absolutely no form of plagiarism will be tolerated. And for those students, plagiarism involves a string of 3 words being taken without a direct quote being used. So keeping that in mind and looking at Julie's article versus the original articles (which are easy to find online), it is clear that she committed plagiarism at the very least from the student's perspective. With that being said, do I think Julie should have been fired? Probably not. However, as a student run organization, there need to be rules in place in order to keep this sort of thing from running rampant. My guess is the editors were following precedent, which is how many decisions at the Daily are made in lieu of an adviser. Julie knew the rules. She was an editor and thus had worked at the Daily for long enough to know better. It's an absolute shame for everyone involved that this relatively small matter had to result in a lawsuit.

Clarence Cromwell

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 9:42 p.m.

While writing for a college paper I learned two rules that would have prevented an incident like this: 1.) You don't put your byline over a story unless you made at least two phone calls. Retyping from a press release or other information doesn't count as journalism and should be avoided to say the least. There have been a few embarrassing hoax stories printed because of lazy typing of press releases. This is a slightly different scenario from the one that rule addresses, but the rule would have raised a red flag at the appropriate moment. 2.) You don't put your name above words that someone else wrote, or above facts that you borrowed from another publication. A byline means original writing and original reporting. And the moral of the story is: It's not fair to rake a reporter from a college paper over the coals, when there was no advisor present to impart those lessons. The standards and practices are passed from one generation to the next verbally; it's the only remaining craft that we learn by standing elbow to elbow with our elders. Of course the term "remaining" is debatable.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

The UM did have a master's program in journalism in the '80s as part of Rackham, don't know when it went away. But that program had no connection to the Daily, which is unlike how it works at many universities. In fact, students were told specifically not to write for the Daily. The keys to this story, if there are any, are 1) whether she was forced to "resign" over the incident (students resign from clubs all the time for all kinds of reasons) and 2) whether she suffered any abuse from the people who were sued. Whether the Daily acted appropriately in publishing the retraction is immaterial. The work violated plagiarism standards, and, while the disclaimer the Daily posted was a little silly and boilerplatish, I can't see anything defamatory or intended to cause personal distress.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 3:30 p.m.

The only journalism program in the area is at EMU. Being a former student in that department i can say that there are a few faculty members who work closely with the Eastern Echo (another autonomous student paper). Most of the people who work in that department have prior journalism experience in the field or currently work at The point being, read the Echo, it's a better student paper.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 3:08 p.m.

Mary, I recall at one time a Communications dept lecturer was giving the Daily advice. Perhaps it was unofficial. It was bad too.

Juliana Keeping

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 1:22 p.m.

Hello Mary. The Daily has no adviser on hand. From the story: "U-M lawyers will file a response separately on the university's behalf, though it isn't clear whether U-M can be sued over actions that occurred at the independent, student-run newspaper, which is funded entirely by advertising sales and employs no journalism adviser."


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 1:18 p.m.

Thanks for the info, Edward. Still doesn't answer my question, which is whether there is a daily adviser in place. I would think most universities with a daily newspaper have one (mine did), and most universities' journalism (or communications) departments are tied to their student newspapers. If there is not that connection and adviser at UM, I'm not sure why any student would attend UM with interest in becoming a journalist. Sheesh. (Assuming the profession exists in 10 years--see previous reference to "community journalism.")


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 12:44 p.m.

UM doesn't have a journalism department anymore? there no journalism professor (you know, a mature adult and typically an experienced journalist)who serves as a daily advisor to the reporters and editors? No one who leads daily recaps of what went right and wrong with the paper? If so, that tells me a lot. (And don't get me started on my concerns about "community journalism"--wink wink).

Tom Teague

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 11:17 a.m.

@MHW - You've nailed the problem here. Having written a few wraps myself, it's difficult to produce them on deadline using only someone else's story as a source. Unless this young woman completely ignored proper credits in the story, or changed attribution to make it sound as if the Daily had conducted the interviews, the editors should have been more tolerant. As you said, the real shame is that everyone lawyered up. Tony - Agree that comments had veered off topic (guilty as charged), but you did have an interesting discussion going on the Fourth Estate and role of new versus traditional media. Are all those comments somewhere where we could continue the exchange?


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 11:16 a.m.

Interesting development. Whether the Daily is found to have acted improperly or not, this will be good lesson for them. Libel is one of the first issues taught in journalism school. Well it was when I was there. Is the UM liable for Daily miscues? Always has been an interesting question. If the U supports the Daily financially, is there a publisher relationship. Many years ago, there was a charge for the Daily but no one would buy it. Thus no ads and they nearly went under. So the Daily became a free paper, which increased circulation dramatically. Alas, professional journalism died with FOIA. Reporters stopped developing sources because after FOIA they expect to be given the news. But they do not get all the news they could if they went back to how it is supposed to be done.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

U of M doesn't have any journalism department anymore. It was disbanded many years ago. I always wonder if the Daily gets any faculty advice, though the item in question here is a small one that probably wouldn't have received much review. The paper always seems to be out in the wilderness, even though, business wise, it must get some university support. Isn't it located in a campus building, the Student Publications Building? U of M did a big fundraising campaign and got a donor to pay for renovations, I believe.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

Plagiarize is the word, and that's debatable. The definition of plagiarize is to pass another's words off as your own without crediting the source. She did credit all of the publication sources in her wrap up piece. Remember, this was a simple piece compiling news from other publications. Her error was lifting sentences verbatim, right, but she did then write where the content came from. Such sloppiness should not be condoned and should perhaps be met with discpinary action, but kicking what sounds like a hard-working student off a student newspaper for that appears extreme, with no prior offenses. That said, it's really sad that everything has to resort to lawsuits, and I agree that it's not likely going to help her in the long wrong. I wonder where the UM journalism faculty was in all this. Finally, it's hard to know all the facts from one story in sharing impressions based on this particular report. And, glad to see kids still showing an interest in journalism, even with all the doom and gloom surrounding the media industry.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 9:48 a.m.

If she wanted to be a journalist the first thing she should have learned was to NOT PLAGURIZE.


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

Wow. As a journalist (reporter and editor) for more than 20 years, I find this whole thing very disappointing. Clearly, Rowe got sloppy and should have used her own words, but this WAS a wrap piece about content from other publications. The Daily is a college newspaper, where students are learning about journalism and ethics, and some will make mistakes along they way. Yet Rowe was (seemingly) forced to resign for a first offense? Graca acknowledges in his note that the paper couldn't find any more instances in Rowe's previous works of "plagiarism," if that's what you want to call it. The whole thing seems a bit crazy to me, and suggests perhaps that were personality conflicts and/or underlying politics involved. Remember, Daily, that you're a student newspaper at a learning institution.

Richard C

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 7:43 a.m.

This is going to look good on the resume - whether she has any hopes of being a journalist or not. "Yeah, I sued my employer when I was a student" I think she's being taken advantage of by her lawyer(s).


Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 1:10 a.m.

@in2mation, umm...what does Obama have to do with this story? As far as to when the MSM started going south, I'd offer the Jennifer Flowers story that the National Inquire ran when former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was running for President. The Inquire ran the story about his alledged affair. The MSM wouldn't verify the story since it came from a tabloid. Once true, the MSM had to attribute the story to the Inquire, which irked the more established media. This began, in my opinion, the downslide of journalism and has led to "infotainment news". But wait, guess what? The Inquire has won a Pulitzer for the John Edwards story. Go figure.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 11:06 p.m.

Don't forget the Daily is student-operated and edited. These are teenagers learning about journalism in between classes. So they will make mistakes, and editors will turn reporting into Michael-Moore-style "documentaries." Especially when the national papers now encourage biased reporting. Doesn't excuse it. No editor worth anything, though, would submit an article back to a source for editing. Instead, if unsure, an editor should kick a story back or to another reporter for verification. Some larger papers even employ fact checkers on the copy desk. This is an easy case. Julie was writing a wrap piece. Her byline went on it. That implies she is rewriting the sourced articles to fit her own style. It is plagiarism not to use quotes, as the editor's comments indicate. I'm not sure why she resigned. I doubt the EiC would demand it, nor is it appropriate on a student paper where everyone is learning. Might be a bit embarrassing to have that kind of charge made, but you need tough skin to be a journalist. I suspect most of this suit will be kicked immediately. If she was forced out, she might have a case against the EiC, but that would be an extraordinarily difficult case to make. Unless there's something else we don't know, I figure this is the last we'll ever hear of this case.


Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 10:32 p.m.

this young lady clearly has a bright future ahead...

Michigan Reader

Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 8:45 p.m.

I don't believe U-M has any liability in this case, because it (liability) would attach if a U-M adviser was acting within the scope of his or her employment with the U. In this case, there was no U-M staff involved at all. So, vicarious liability can't be imputed to the U-M. Oh, anyone can sue, but the University will most likely be dismissed as a defendant.