As we wrote, the New Canaan News fired Jha in June after learning he made up quotes and sources in 25 stories. Shortly after Jha’s firing, the Connecticut SPJ sent a memo about the disgraced reporter, noting that he had won two awards from the group just the month before his firing. The Connecticut SPJ also announced that “media lawyer and Syracuse professor” Roy S. Gutterman would lead an “independent investigation” of Jha’s award-winning reports.
According to the Connecticut SPJ’s announcement, which was emailed to iMediaEthics, Gutterman’s review found that Jha had made up “sources in the in-depth reporting entry.” As such, the Connecticut SPJ’s “Board of Directors on July 29 voted to revoke Jha’s first place award for the in-depth reporting entry” — the report “Enabling Underage Partying.” No action was taken for his other award, a third-place prize for a story, “Teachers, students weigh in on Mark Twain controversy,” because “all sources…were legitimate” and the “investigation found no evidence of deception.”
However, Gutterman’s report, see here, called for both awards given to Jha to “be retracted” since he didn’t “meet the standards set by the SPJ Code of Ethics.” The Connecticut SPJ’s president Jodie Mozdzer explained to iMediaEthics by email why the group didn’t follow Gutterman’s advice to revoke both awards:
“The Connecticut SPJ board used the Pulitzer board’s 1932 standard to assess the legitimacy of Paresh Jha’s entries. For the first place entry, Connecticut SPJ, through the investigation report, concluded there was clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.
“Although some sources felt their quotes were taken out of context in the third-place entry, the Connecticut SPJ Board did not feel it met the standard of ‘clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception’ as the first place award entry did.”
The group’s letter, signed by Mozdzer and past president Cindy Simoneau, also reminded of its stance on journalism ethics, writing:
“We condemn all unethical practices and continue to applaud all media organizations for their swift action on ridding the industry of any violators.”
In the report, Gutterman detailed how he reviewed the two award-winning stories, including with “a detailed reading,” trying to contact all listed as Jha’s sources for those stories, and fact checking “news and scholarly articles” as well as “open records.” Gutterman’s report notes that he didn’t conduct a “background investigation” of Jha, but did “address his background,” which includes a “bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology,” past work for the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper and so on. Gutterman reported that Jha “openly admitted his fabrications to as many as 25 stories, including one of the award-winning pieces.”
With the first place “Enabling underage partying” three-part report, Gutterman found “significant overlap between the three stories” in quoting, confirmed with Jha the New Canaan News’ determination that two sources were made up, and reported that two of the six real interviewees “said they were entirely and accurately quoted throughout the story.” One interviewee, Sen. Toni Boucher, claimed Jha “embellished” her comments.
Concerning the “Mark Twain” report, Gutterman noted his “investigation confirms the identities of all the sources quoted in this story” and that “all the named, quoted sources were interviewed for this investigation.” But, Gutterman noted that Jha interviewed some of the teachers quoted in a group, which wasn’t clearly disclosed to readers, that Jha misspelled two interviewees’ names, and that some teachers claimed “many of the quotes were taken out of context, improperly attributed to them or outright incorrect.”
In closing, Gutterman noted that Jha apologized to the Connecticut SPJ and offered “to forfeit the awards.” Gutterman wrote that Jha’s editors “acted quickly and responsibly” in addressing Jha’s fabrications and the investigation, but “fall short in even allowing anything bearing Mr. Jha’s byline to remain in the awards competition.”
UPDATED: 7/30/2012 10:50 AM EST: Added in quote from Mozdzer.