As we've previously written, Arizona State University's student newspaper the State Press retracted articles by student writer Raquel Velasco because of plagiarism. A few days later, Arizona newspaper the East Valley Tribune unpublished "several articles" by an unnamed ASU student intern for plagiarism. While the Tribune didn't name the student or respond to our email inquiry, the Phoenix New Times said that she is the same intern the Tribune wrote about. (We haven't heard back from Velasco or the Tribune asking for confirmation.) The Phoenix New Times has since reported that Velasco also reported for "several joints in town," including KPHO Channel 5, "the Arizona Republic/12 News partnership, and city "TV station PHX11."
And, according to the New Times, KPHO's news director Michelle Donaldson reviewed Velasco's work. We spoke to Donaldson about the station's review of Velasco's work, its internship program and more.
According to Donaldson, the station's internship program is more focused on education than "content creation" so interns typically "shadow people in the content creation" rather than be responsible for writing it themselves. "In this circumstance, it probably served me well," Donaldson said.
Donaldson explained to iMediaEthics that her review of Velasco's work focused on "any content that would have her name on it," which meant stories Velasco posted to the station's website.
"There were more than 100 stories that she posted to our website," Donaldson explained, but "almost all were Associated Press stories." Donaldson also highlighted the "irony" that at KPHO, Velasco's "task was to post the Associated Press with proper attribution." Additionally, Donaldson estimated that Velasco wrote about eight stories "based on press releases," and while they included "a couple of poorly composed paragraphs," Donaldson said of her review of Velasco's work that "I could not identify anything from another media source that were plagiarized."
"I went through every single thing I could find," Donaldson told iMediaEthics. "For me, it was a gutcheck -- you just want to make sure."
When iMediaEthics searched KPHO's website for Velasco's name Sept. 10, the search had no results. According to Donaldson, under the system the station uses to post online, when someone leaves the station, their name is removed from the "web interface" and their bylines are taken down. So, for Donaldson's review of Velasco's work, she had to "crack into the system" to find any stories "posted by" Velasco.
Donaldson also challenged Velasco's claims in her resume that she was a "breaking news reporter" from May 2011 to Aug. 2012, where she
"Interned as a breaking news reporter for CBS5 online website. Responsibilities included reporting mostly crime, government and education. Also produced slideshows and videos for the web."
Donaldson told the New Times that Velasco's internship lasted from "late June 2011 to August 2011" where she was not a "breaking news reporter," and reiterated to iMediaEthics that Velasco was simply an "educational intern who earned some credit here through the university."
She added that the station learned of Velasco's plagiarism at the State Press from the school. "We were alerted to the situation by ASU," she said. (We wrpte to ASU seeking confirmation. ASU's journalism school's associate dean, Kristin Gilger, told iMediaEthics she's "given...all the information I can." She told iMediaEthics previously that the "federal Family Educational and Privacy Act" bans "discussing the academic record of any student" but pointed to the school's "Academic Integrity Pledge" and policy, which bans plagiarism. Under the policy, students who have been "found by the [school's Standards] committee" to plagiarize "will be dismissed from" the school.)
The Arizona Republic, where Velasco's resume says she worked as a "breaking news reporter" from "May 2011 - Aug. 2012," lists on its website "about 275 results" for a search of Velasco's name. Her resume claims that she wrote "more than 90 stories in 16 weeks" and "created three online projects." We've written to the Republic asking if it will review Velasco's work, and will update with any response.
A Sept. 10 search of Velasco's name on PHX11, where Velasco's website says she worked as a "television/public relations assistant' from "Jan. 2011 - May 2011," "returned no videos." We've also written to PHX11 seeking information and will update with any response.