Friday, March 26, 2010

The plagiarism case that shook the New York Times to its foundations

Go to this page for links to New York Times stories related to the Jayson Blair plagiarism case.
  • The best book on the subject is Hard News, by Seth Mnookin. It's available in the Commits library. Hard News also gives you an amazing insight into how one of the world's great newspapers works.
  • And here's the NYT's national editor Suzanne Daley (pictured) answering a reader's question about the case:
    The Legacy of Jayson Blair

Q. Is it too soon to ask about the legacy of Jayson Blair for the National Desk? Do you think The Times learned the right lessons? Is it possible for a news organization, stung so badly, to become too cautious in its pursuit of the news?
    — Donald Frazier, Denver

A. I don’t think anyone around here is going to thank Jayson Blair any time soon for the shame he brought to this institution. But much good came out of his deplorable behavior. His legacy permeates our newsroom.

    In the aftermath of Mr. Blair’s fabrications, we did a lot of soul searching and developed all sorts of new policies and training on ethics, conflict of interest, anonymous sourcing.

    We now have a public editor, Clark Hoyt, who takes in complaints from the public and publishes weekly critiques of our work. We also have a high-level editor inside the newsroom, who is responsible for standards and ethics. On top of that, each desk must track its errors and who made them. I get monthly summaries so I can identify the worst trespassers on the National Desk.

    We also decided to be a lot more transparent about who was contributing to the stories in our paper. When I started here, there were all kinds of crazy byline rules, grandfathered in long ago for who knows what reason. There was a policy, for instance, that you were only allowed one byline in the paper even if you had written two stories (even on the front page.) And only staff reporters could have bylines at all in the news sections. That meant a sizable number of stories had no bylines and a reader could not tell who wrote or reported them. Now, we spell it all out in sometimes lengthy contributor boxes.

    And we have increased our efforts to respond to the public with features like "Talk to the Newsroom."

    Have we become too cautious? Nope. Not in my book.
  • For more Q&A with Suzanne Daley, go here
UPDATE (August 2, 2013): Commitscion ASWATHY MURALI (Class of 2015) has made the valuable suggestion that there should be something on the Reading Room blog about the hoax that shook the Washington Post to its foundations: "Jimmy's World", the story by Janet Cooke that won her a Pulitzer Prize but was later proved to be a fabrication. You can get all the details on "Story Lab", a very interesting blog published by the newspaper: Story pick: Janet Cooke and "Jimmy's World".

(What is Story Lab?  According to the "About" page, this is "where readers and reporters will come together to create and shape stories. Washington Post writers will talk about some of the hard choices involved in journalism". Read the description in its entirety here.)

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