Writer admits to copying columns

Daily Reporter staff reports

GREENFIELD — A Daily Reporter opinion columnist who is also an elected county official plagiarized most of the work she submitted to the newspaper.

Martha Vail, who began writing opinion columns intermittently in late 2015, admitted she regularly copied passages from other opinion columns and news stories she found online and presented them as her own work, saying she didn’t realize that wasn’t allowed.

“I didn’t know at the time I was doing anything wrong, but you’re right — my name’s there,” she said in an interview with the Daily Reporter.

“I was just trying to back up how I felt with what I found online.”

Vail, who was recently elected to the Hancock County Council, volunteered to write columns — which are submitted by readers and meant to reflect their personal views — on occasion for the Daily Reporter.

She was not paid and is not an employee of AIM Media Indiana, the Daily Reporter’s parent company.

Her work will no longer appear in the Daily Reporter.

A Daily Reporter review of Vail’s published submissions found five of her seven opinion columns were copied from internet articles without Vail giving credit to the original author. The Daily Reporter initiated a review of Vail’s work after a reader questioned a voter total, which was incorrect, that she referenced in a column pertaining to the presidential election (Balancing power, Dec. 31-Jan. 2, 2016, A6).

A search for the source of that inaccuracy revealed Vail had copied more than half the column from various internet articles.

Another column Vail submitted (“Now is perfect time to back causes for veterans,” Dec. 26-28, 2015, A4) was plagiarized in its entirety with the exception of a sentence Vail added: “I have researched and come up with the top 10 charities supporting our veterans.” The rest of the column was copied from an article posted to CNBC.com (“Change the World: Top 10 charities that support veterans,” Nov. 15, 2014).

Other columns took information from christianity.com, Prager University and from syndicated columnist Tom DeWeese.

Vail apologized for her actions, saying she had hoped to use her position as an opinion columnist to inform readers about topics important to her; she often sought out viewpoints online she agreed with, then copied and pasted others’ work for her columns, she said.

“The more I’m researching, I’m thinking, ‘Well, that is plagiarism or whatever you call that when you take it from somebody else,’” Vail said.

The Daily Reporter is committed to providing its audience with original content — from the stories that appear on the front page to the opinion columns, photos and news from readers — and will continue to check work submitted for publication.

Following an interview with the Daily Reporter, Vail submitted this statement:

“The articles I submitted were views that I believed in. I have never written for a paper before and only wanted to share with my readers topics I thought were deserving of stimulating others to question, thus causing discussions to follow. It has hurt me deeply that I put others in this precarious position. Your trust in me was violated, and for that, I must pay the price.

A valuable lesson learned by me in this is to know all the rules and consequences when accepting a job no matter how big or small. Own up to your mistakes, pray that others are spared any repercussions from your actions and ask God’s forgiveness.”