Madison Roberts, a reporter for the University of Alabama’s student newspaper The Crimson White, was fired for making up “nearly 30” sources in the past two and a half months, according to its own report on her extensive fabrication. The newspaper has since unpublished all of her work.
And because of this fabrication, The Crimson White told iMediaEthics it plans to make “more frequent spot-checks” of sources in stories. The paper announced Roberts’ fabrication in a news story picked up by Poynter yesterday. Editor-in-Chief Will Tucker offered iMediaEthics more details about the incident:
“We feel as though Madison’s fabrications did not impugn other reporters’ work, so no sweeping new policies will be put in place besides more frequent spot-checks of student names by our copy editors. We will, however, vet our reporters more thoroughly before hiring them and giving them tough assignments like those for which we felt Madison was ready. She obviously wasn’t.”
Roberts fessed up to fabricating last week after the newspaper discovered her ethical lapse during basic fact checking. Roberts called the fabrication a “mistake” and apologized, but said she “did it because The Crimson White had become so important to me that I didn’t want to lose it” according to The Crimson White’s story on her firing. According to The Crimson White’s report:
“Roberts created names, years and majors for the sources. The fabrications were discovered when, on March 13, Roberts turned in two stories to editors for which she had fabricated every source, including a professor. The paper’s copy editors, while fact-checking the correct spelling of one of the fabricated students’ names, discovered that no such student existed. The news editors then checked UA directories for all of the sources in the stories.”
iMediaEthics asked The Crimson White’s Tucker what its review of Roberts’ work included. Tucker said it checked her sources against the school’s student directory and Facebook. “Our research corroborated what she told us–that she started fabricating sources on Jan. 10,” Tucker explained. The Crimson White also created a list of Roberts’ dozen stories that included phony sources and provided that for readers on its website.
Those stories have since been unpublished, but there’s no explanation on the individual story page of Roberts’ fabrication. The Crimson White’s Tucker told iMediaEthics that the paper doesn’t have any “plans to add notes on the pages” where it deleted Roberts’ work. “If we do add notes there or anywhere else in the future, I will place links to both our story and my column about the issue in that space,” he wrote by email.
In December, Massachusetts newspaper the Cape Cod Times said its longtime reporter Karen Jeffrey faked sources in more than 30 stories.