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Denver police Twitter account riles up media with plagiarism question

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Earlier this week, the Denver Police Department and members of the news media engaged in a very public Twitter conversation about plagiarism.

It was a spirited debate, as well as one so unusual that at least one person initially thought the DPD account had been hacked.

"We certainly struck a nerve," says DPD chief of staff Lieutenant Matt Murray, who started the back-and-forth. "I'm curious as to why."

The exchange, which took place on Tuesday, kicked off with this:

Plagtracker.com, by the way, touts itself as "the most accurate" plagiarism tracking service; it targets students, teachers, publishers and site owners.

Next came this invitation for responses....

...supplemented by a specific call out to major news agencies:

The open-ended nature of the question caught some folks by surprise, including Derigan Silver, an assistant professor at the University of Denver specializing in media and Internet law. He wrote, "Has anyone called the Denver Police PIO to tell them @DenverPolice got hacked?"

To that, Murray responded, "DPD has not been 'hacked,' just asking a genuine question. Should social media be attributed?"

To that query, Jim Bates, a Post night editor, tweeted, "Of course & we do. A pure RT auto-attributes. New tweet attributes. Story quotes police as it always has."

Then there was 9News reporter Jeremy Jojola, who wrote, "I guess, in my opinion, it depends on the seriousness and type of report....but it is a double edge sword....social media is often a different monster, and offers a more casual setting for journos....journos should treat social media like they would a publication or broadcast. Attribution, in most cases, should be necessary."

Other media types were curious about what sparked the chat, including Jon Stone, a 7News producer. He wrote, "This is a fun conversation and all, but is there something @7NewsNOW tweeted today that now has you bringing us into this???"

Also puzzled was Kelsey Fowler, a freelance contributor to the Post's music section and a recent intern for multiple outlets. Her tweet: "@DenverPolice having a very strange, passive aggressive 'discussion' about reporters and journalism right now. Hard to follow but very odd."

Continue for more about the Denver Police Department and Twitter, including more exchanges and photos, plus info about a police AMA on Reddit scheduled for tonight. Murray, tweeting for the DPD, replied to the question, "Was there a particular tweet that upset you tonite...?" with "NOPE! Just asked a question."

Jim Spellman, a former Denver-based CNN correspondent now working in Washington, D.C., for CCTV, had a question of his own: "How about this @DenverPolice, should officials like Police PIOs/SM folks have to post their actual name w/ tweets for accountability?" To that, Nicole Vap of 9News added, "Yeah DPD...tell us who is behind the twitter curtain."

A similar query was posed by Joe Murphy, a (correction) Digital First Media web developer, who asked at one point, "I am curious how old are you, the twitter-voice of the Denver Police Department?"

As for Murray, he promptly revealed his identity and noted that he's 46, and has been a police officer for 25 years." (Update: Murphy e-mails to say Murray's response was prompt the second time he asked about his age.)

Of course, Murray has used the Denver Police Twitter account for impromptu media analyses in the past -- notably in 2011, when the DPD ran a survey asking followers which of two reports on photo-radar (one highly critical, the other one comparatively neutral) struck them as more accurate. In the end, the one apparently favored by the police ran neck and neck with "Who cares?"

Still, Murray was not dissuaded -- and the plagiarism conversation has only made him more enthusiastic about such engagement.

"As you know, we have a huge social media presence," he says. "We follow social media very closely, and we notice that there's a huge benefit to getting information out. But it's interesting how some news personalities treat citing very differently. Some news agencies cite their sources every single time, whether it's on social media or not. But some news agencies take the citation away from it and put it out as if it's their own. It's basically copied and pasted. And we just asked, 'Is that right? Is that plagiarism? Or are there new rules?'

"Some of the media responded that things should always be cited -- that it gives things more credibility. And I got calls at home from news directors who said, 'This is a conversation we should have.' But other people didn't seem to like that we asked -- like they thought the questions should only go one way."

If that's the case, such folks are bound for disappointment. Murray loves the way Twitter allows the police, the public and the media to interact, and he hopes to continue using it as he did earlier this week.

"I think social media evens the playing field," he allows. "Anybody can ask a question, and should. That's what should be happening; there should be a dialogue. And we didn't make any judgments. We never said something was right or wrong. We were just interested in how people feel about it."

The next DPD experiment in social media will take place tonight: Murray will participate in an "AMA" -- the letters stand for "Ask Me Anything" -- on Reddit, beginning at 6 p.m. Click here for more details.

"I don't know much about it," Murray concedes, "but the more conversations, the better."

More from our Tech archive: "Denver Police Twitter survey results on photo radar stories: 'Who cares?' finishes strong."

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