On Sept. 21, 2012, several editors at The Daily Collegian became aware of issues regarding the validity of quotes in an article previewing the dedication of the Suzanne Pohland Paterno Catholic Student Faith Center.
The article in question, “Students look forward to Paterno Catholic Center opening,” appeared on page 1 of the Sept. 7, 2012, issue of the Collegian, as well as online.
As originally published, the article included several quotes falsely attributed to Sue Paterno. We have since confirmed that the staff writer who wrote the article did not interview Paterno for the article. The quotes in the original article were fabricated, and the staff member said that this was done knowingly in violation of the Collegian’s Code of Ethics. The staff member also confirmed that parts of the quotes as well as other facts included in the article were drawn from StateCollege.com without attribution.
Until the situation was brought to our attention Sept. 21, editors had believed the student had conducted an interview with Paterno on Sept. 6, 2012, while writing the original story, and we were confident that the information contained in the article was trustworthy.
However, this was not the first time questions were raised about the work of the staff writer involved. On Sept. 18, a copy editor also discovered similarities between a sentence in an article written by the same student and a sentence in an outside article used as part of the student’s background research. When asked, the staff member said the similarities were an honest mistake stemming from a misunderstanding in proper attribution procedures.
Still, as a precaution, that article was not published, and the staff writer was told that his previous work would be subject to a review for missing or incorrect attribution. The staff writer was asked to repeat a semester of reporter training, but he was permitted to remain on the staff under increased supervision.
In light of the most recent incident, the Collegian is now in the process of reviewing the staff writer’s past work for any additional issues in the validity of quotes used or errors in attributing information gathered from outside sources.
The staff writer has been placed on suspension, pending completion of that review. Until the review is complete, additionally, an editor’s note will appear on each of the staff writer’s published articles online. The Sept. 7 article has been amended to remove the fabricated quotes and add attribution where it was missing, and an editor’s note also appears on that piece.
An initial review of the articles points to attribution issues in at least some of the writer's previous work, but a more thorough process is needed to fully verify the extent of the issues. I hope to complete this review as soon as possible while also being careful to give this issue thorough attention.
In response to an incident of plagiarism discovered earlier in 2012, the Collegian instituted increased training for incoming staff members and editors. We will expand upon that training and evaluate what we can be doing better, as an institution, to make sure every staff member understands the fundamentals of journalism ethics.
The relationship between the Collegian and the public is one built on trust — that applies to both the people who read our work and the people we rely on as sources while producing our content. In this case, we risk severely jeopardizing trust in both of those areas. For that, I apologize on behalf of the Collegian.
Casey McDermott is a senior majoring in journalism and sociology, and she is the Collegian's editor in chief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.