Weeding out fraud

Any SPJ chapter that holds an annual journalism contest (mine does) should pay attention to what happened in Connecticut.

A newspaper reporter there was dismissed from his job after his employer said he fabricated sources in 25 stories.

The reporter, Paresh Jha, had won two prizes from the Connecticut Pro chapter of SPJ in its annual journalism competition – a third place for feature writing and a first place for in-depth reporting – before word spread about the fabrications.

The chapter board is to be commended for how it thought through a proper response, hiring Roy Gutterman, a Syracuse University professor and media lawyer, to investigate the two prize-winning entries.

The chapter recently made Gutterman’s full report available and made a decision about Jha’s prizes.

It’s interesting that the chapter didn’t fully accept Gutterman’s recommendation, which was to rescind both awards.

The report says Jha fabricated sources in his feature entry; revoking that award was obvious.

Gutterman’s report says the in-depth reporting entry also was problematic.

He wrote: “All the sources in the story indeed exist and they confirmed that they were interviewed. However, the names for two were misspelled, three sources expressed concerns with how they were quoted, two sentences bear a similarity to a previously published news story and one referenced article cannot be located.”

The chapter decided to let the in-depth reporting award stand.

This episode prompted me to think not just about how to respond to possible fraud, as Connecticut Pro did, but also what a chapter’s responsibility is in promoting good journalism.

Gutterman found shortcomings in Jha’s in-depth reporting entry. But were they enough to nullify an award? Would it have been different if the flaws were found by the judges before giving an award?

 

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