Evaluate the prevalence of media bias in the press regarding the essay writing industry.
The essay writing industry is a phenomenon that originated in the 19th century with essay mills that were located in fraternity houses to help individuals with their studies (Stavisky, 1973). However, in the years since students first accessed the services of writers who would produce term papers and essays, the industry has grown exponentially. As a result of the adoption of an accessible e-commerce model, the essay writing industry is now populated by hundreds of companies that are based in various locations around the world (Brady & Dutta, 2012). It has also attracted increasing attention as a result. There has been distinct bias placed upon the industry by academics, such as Martin’s (1993, p. 36) declaration that it constitutes “institutionalized plagiarism”. However, it can also be argued that there has also been significant bias against the industry in the media too. This essay will examine a range of articles that have been published in British newspapers and their websites and critically evaluate their content in order to assess how far bias is prevalent in each one. This will be done with a view to concluding that the prevalence of media bias relating to custom essay writing within the press is extremely high and almost wholly negative. Although the occurrence of articles about the industry as a whole are infrequent, those that are published are innately biased with very few statements that actually offer a balance to the negativity directed towards the industry.
This essay is an example of the work produced by our professional writers
A search of newspaper archives reveals that the essay writing industry is a focus for the press at distinct intervals, with articles published in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2014 with very little in between. Taking 2007 first, The Guardian published an article in April of that year in specific reference to an individual company rather than taking a look at the industry as a whole. The implication is that the company in question is indicative of the industry and therefore of its morals and integrity but the approach taken by Shepherd and Tobin (2007) is relatively broad and attempts to cover all aspects of the industry, from the writers to the companies to the universities. In effect, this approach does limit the prevalence of media bias in the article in theory. Its tone remains factual throughout and it relies heavily on quotes to convey its point. For example, the owner of one custom essay company is quoted as saying "[o]ur message is clear to all students. Come and use us, but use us properly like any other source and then go and write your own piece," (Shepherd & Tobin, 2007). However, this is countered by a quote from Dr Laurie Friday, the Cambridge secretary of the board of graduate studies: "We see [custom essay companies] as a deliberate attempt to undermine the academic integrity of this and other universities” (Shepherd & Tobin, 2007). The contrast is stark and the reader does not seem to be guided either way at first glance. As such, the level of media bias can be perceived as minimal in this context. However, there are instances that contradict this conclusion within the article.
Shepherd and Tobin’s (2007) use of quotes is interesting in that the article employs them in order to ostensibly provide balance and negate any hint of bias but it also uses them in order to ask questions that undermine the integrity that custom essay companies attempt to promote. Shepherd and Tobin (2007) state that they:
..."provides model examples of academic research that are intended to be used by clients as inspiration for their own work. Our services could only be construed as cheating if model work was handed in by clients as their own - something we strongly discourage," its website says. But why then are stylistic considerations so heavily emphasised in its guidelines for essay writers, ask its critics.
This immediate response to the quote is not a question grammatically and so has an innate authority as a statement of truth, even if it does contradict the company’s statement and therefore also the truth projected by the service itself. This particular style is interesting in terms of the acknowledgement of the company’s ethical stance, which does undermine the prevalence of bias, before that image is destabilised by the implication that cyber-pseudepigraphy, or “...using the Internet to have another person write an academic essay or paper, without this authorship being acknowledged” (Page, 2004, p. 429), is present.
There was a further article published in 2008 about the essay writing industry which displays many similarities with the 2007 article regarding the way the industry itself is represented. For example, the additional article by Shepherd (2008) in The Guardian utilises the same investigative structure in order to shed light on the industry. The focus is on an American website that does not specialise in custom essays and yet the article’s sub-heading specifically mentions “contract cheating” (Shepherd, 2008) without acknowledging the difference between specialist companies and independent freelancers. This term was again used in a BBC report three years later in reference to “essay services”, although again there was no clarification as to whether they were specialist companies or not (Chakrabarti, 2012). This is an example of bias because the implication is that the two are similar in nature and there is no clarification to express otherwise in either article. This facilitates a greater focus on the immoral and unethical stance adopted by the industry as the individuals for hire do not offer the same ethical stance that the industry’s leading companies do (UK Essays, 2014). The investigative nature of the reports appear to imbue them with authority though, thus allowing the prevalence of bias to negate the need to differentiate. Furthermore, it should be noted that the use of an independent freelancer website also removes the checks that are put in place by the reputable companies, all of whom vet their writers (UK Essays, 2014). This is not mentioned in the article though, with Shepherd (2008) instead choosing to point out that “[t]hree-quarters of the history assignment turned out to be copied from an American history journal paper - immediate grounds for a university disciplinary action... About 70% of its text was identical to the journal article.” This marks a significant difference from the earlier article, which appears to be a little more balanced. As such, it is possible to argue that the bias that underpins this particular article fulfils an agenda. Indeed, this is the argument conveyed in a rebuttal to the BBC’s report that appeared in The Telegraph’s blog . The author points out that such reports are one-sided, do not consider the legal implications that are attached to custom essay companies located in the UK and fail to ask the question of why such services are used (Pooory, 2012). This rebuttal further highlights the prevalence of bias within the press as it offers an insight into the information that should balance reports concerning the custom essay industry for them to be deemed fair.
There is a further article from The Independent in 2012 that follows a similar pattern to Shepherd’s article, although it offers a focus on the broader topic of cheating and simply incorporates the essay writing industry as one of a series of issues. As such, it follows the pattern established by the negativity imposed upon the industry in 2008. For example, Brady and Dutta (2012) conducted an investigative report into the problem of cheating in universities and, by extension, mention the essay writing industry as a problem that the government has failed to tackle. The language is interesting, with phrases like “defend standards”, “fraud” and “devalues the currency of all degrees” being incorporated into the article (Brady & Dutta, 2012). This embeds an innate media bias into the article that is impossible to overcome as the perspective is distinctly anti-cheating and the authors clearly perceive it as such. Similarly, there is a focus on the work, with Brady and Dutta (2012) stating that it passed a plagiarism checker, unlike that in Shepherd’s (2008) investigation, but it did not meet the standard ordered. There is no attempt to offer a positive perspective at all, thus ensuring that the negative image of the industry prevailed with no argument to counter it at all. In effect, this demonstrates a pattern of media bias within the press over an extended period of time. The lack of coverage of the counter-argument in the press reinforces the idea that the newspapers concerned demonstrate a lack of desire to employ any form of balance in their reporting of the industry.
Balance is certainly an important concept in the reporting about the essay writing industry, with very few reports making a concerted effort to provide reputable companies with an opportunity to respond to accusations. However, a report that appeared in The Sunday Times in 2013 is perhaps the one that does so to the greatest extent. The article does tend to adopt a negative tone but provides an opportunity for one company, All Answers, to respond to accusations of facilitating cheating: “In line with many in the business, All Answers tries to blame universities... Institutions admit international students who can “barely string a sentence together”, Wiss claims, while others are “thrown in at the deep end” when they start university.” (Matthews, 2013). This sentence is clearly framed to discredit All Answers’s response though, and so it displays bias via the ostensible balance that one would expect of the broadsheet.
The most recent article on the essay writing industry appeared in the Daily Mirror on 28th June 2014 and differed somewhat from the articles that had gone before. The analysis here thus far demonstrates the presence of media bias but also provides proof of a token gesture towards achieving balance, even if such gestures were clearly made for journalistic purposes rather than as a genuine attempt to cover both sides of the argument. However, Wright and Cortbus’s (2014) article, which is presented as an investigative piece, makes no such attempt to soften the negativity. The agenda of the article is clear from the somewhat sensational title: “Watch dodgy firms offer ready-written essays to help cheating students get a degree” (Wright & Cortbus, 2014). This immediately creates a negative tone that condemns the students and firms alike with each of the descriptors being employed so as to elicit an immediate reaction from the reader. This use of language is repeated throughout the essay. For example, Wright and Cortbus (2014) utilise words like “scam”, “risk” and “shady” to imbue the image of the industry that they create with immorality and disapproval, thus clearly demonstrating media bias to the greatest possible extent. However, the use of “scam” also contains further connotations that instil the implication in the reader that the firms are somehow preying on students when there is nothing to substantiate that within the article itself. In this way, the use of language is extremely effective at achieving its desired impact but its sensationalism undermines the article’s ability to convey its authority on the topic over and above the innate bias that forms the foundation of the piece. It should be noted, though, that the newspaper itself may actively impact upon the level of bias in this case as it appeared in a tabloid that is well known for its sensationalism. This is reinforced by a similar investigative article that was published in The Sunday Times in 2014. It purports to have completed an undercover investigation and is heavily biased against custom essay companies, describing their services as a “scandal” (Henry et al., 2014) but there is none of the sensationalism language, thus suggesting that the Wright and Cortbus report is designed to fit the tone of the newspaper.
The bias within Wright and Cortbus’s (2014) investigative report is further enhanced by the usage of quotes. For example, the representative of an essay mill contacted during the course of the investigation is reported to have said: “It’s up to you if you want to add other things. As long as you are understanding the content, it will be fine. If you just submit a first-class dissertation, they will automatically know you received help. But if you’re reading it and checking it and making it your own, then no” (Wright & Cortbus, 2014). Whereas quotes had been used by Shepherd and Tobin (2007) in order to provide a measure of balance, this particular one is ostensibly used to justify the assertion that all firms within the essay writing industry are aware that customers may pass the work off as their own and refuse to condemn it. This is not the case as the quote clearly warns of plagiarism and encourages the student in question to utilise the work as a reference before creating his or her own essay. Despite this, its meaning is twisted by the journalists in order to perpetuate negativity. This interpretation is contradicted by Shepherd and Tobin’s (2007) assertion that reputable companies “strongly discourage[s]” the handing in of model work as the clients’ own in addition to the guides published on the sites of companies that work within the industry relating to how to use the work appropriately: “...when used correctly, it is a valuable teaching aid and no more akin to cheating than a tutor's 'model essay' or the many published essay guides available from your local book shop” (UK Essays, 2014). This perspective offers a moral standpoint that is notably absent from Wright and Cortbus’s argument and therefore highlights the innate media bias that is prevalent within the investigative report and indicative of the wider bias that has persistently been directed towards the industry.
This essay is an example of the work produced by our professional writers
In conclusion, the analysis here examines a range of newspaper reports and most of the reports available do cast the essay writing industry in a
negative light. From the critical evaluation of the articles from 2007, 2012 and 2014, it appears that the way in which the industry is represented has
become progressively worse over time. This is evident in the language used to refer to individual companies and the industry as a whole, although some
differences can be attributed to the newspaper that each report was featured in. However, there is a degree of bias present in every article and therefore
the prevalence of it in pieces that covers the essay writing industry is high. All of the writers seemingly have an agenda that removes the
possibility of objective reporting and therefore enhances the prevalence of media bias within the press. As such, it is possible to assert that the
analysis here proved the thesis that the incidence of media bias relating to custom essay writing is extremely high and predominantly negative,
particularly in recent reports. The coverage of the industry is not regular and so it is possible to identify an agenda behind each article but those
agendas shine through as those that are published are innately biased and feature very little information that could ultimately inject any form of balance.
Brady, B. & Dutta, K., (2012). 45,000 Caught Cheating at Britain’s Universities. The Independent. [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/45000-caught-cheating-at-britains-universities-7555109.html[Accessed 15 July 2014].
Chakrabarti, R., (2012). When Essays for Sale Become Cheating. BBC. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20298237 [Accessed 18 July 2014].
Henry, R., Flyn, C. & Glass, K., (2014). Undercover with Oxbridge Essays. Cal Flyn. [Online] Available at: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/pooky/pooory/73/essays-cheating/ [Accessed 18 July 2014].
Martin, B., (1994). Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis. Journal of Information Ethics, 3:2, pp. 36-47.
Matthews, D., (2013). Essay Mills: University Course Work to Order. The Sunday Times. [Online] Available at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/essay-mills-university-course-work-to-order/1/2007934.article [Accessed 18 July 2014].
Page, J., (2004). Cyber-pseudepigraphy: A New Challenge for Higher Education Policy and Management. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 26:3, pp. 429-433.
Pooory, (2012). When Essays for Sale Become Cheating: A Response. The Telegraph. [Online] Available at: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/pooky/pooory/73/essays-cheating/ [Accessed 18 July 2014].
Shepherd, J., (2008). History Essay in the Making. The Guardian. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/may/06/highereducation.students [Accessed 15 July 2014].
Shepherd, J. & Tobin, L., (2007). Their Dark Materials. The Guardian. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2007/apr/03/highereducation.students [Accessed 15 July 2014].
Stavisky, L., (1973). Term Paper Mills, Academic Plagiarism and State Regulation. Political Science Quarterly, 88:3, pp. 445-461.
UK Essays, (2014). Is Using an Essay Writing Service Cheating? UK Essays. [Online] Available at: //www.ukessays.com/situation-cheating.php [Accessed 15 July 2014].
Wright, S. & Cortbus, C., (2014). Watch Dodgy Firms Offer Ready-Written Essays to Help Cheating Students Get a Degree. Daily Mirror. [Online] Available at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/watch-dodgy-firms-offer-ready-written-3782199 . [Accessed 15 July 2014].