It seems every year a new plagiarism scandal strikes the media. Today, the stigma of lifting passages can haunt media professionals forever, but 250 years ago stealing another reporter’s work without credit was an acceptable form of journalism. In fact, it was a practice that helped unite the colonies and win the Revolutionary War.
By the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, 18 newspapers were being published on American soil to meet a growing demand for domestic journalism that skyrocketed during the late conflict. The craving for local journalism was sustained in the years ahead as the American Revolution unfolded.
Without professional writing staffs of journalists or correspondents, eighteenth-century newspaper printers relied heavily on an intercolonial newspaper exchange system to fill their pages. Printers often copied entire paragraphs or columns directly from other newspapers and frequently without attribution. As a result, identical news reports often appeared in multiple papers throughout America. This news-swapping technique, and resulting plagiarism, helped spread the ideas of liberty and uphold the colonists’ resistance to British Parliament.