Connecticut SPJ board considers launching investigation of fabrication in Paresh Jha’s articles
The board of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists is considering initiating its own investigation of award-winning articles written by confessed fabricator Paresh Jha.
This investigation would be used to determine whether to rescind one or both of the awards given to Jha at last month's CTSPJ 2011 Excellence in Journalism awards.
Board member and secretary-elect Ricky Campbell, a staff reporter with The Register Citizen, said the board is currently engaged in discussions by email. Voting on motions regarding Jha will be concluded by 7 p.m. tomorrow evening, he said. Any board decision will be made public sometime after that deadline.
Jha was fired from Hearst’s New Canaan News last week for fabricating sources while working as a staff writer for the paper. The publication announced the firing and Jha’s offenses in a brief statement on Friday.
Since then, editors and Hearst Newspapers leadership have been largely silent, even though at least two additional examples of fabrication have emerged, one found by me and one found by the Darien Times.
That brings the known total of Jha's fabrications up to 27 articles, which makes him one of the worst serial fabricators in recent journalistic history.
The revelations about Jha's work requires the CTSPJ board to decide what to do with the first place and third place prizes it awarded him last month. The board yesterday issued a statement condemning his actions, and announcing it was “considering whether any action related to these awards should be taken.”
Today’s board discussion is focused on helping determine that action.
“We are currently weighing our options of whether to do a separate investigation into the specific award-winning pieces and then take action on rescinding the awards or not,” Campbell said in a phone interview today.
There was initially a motion moved and seconded that called upon the SPJ to immediately rescind Jha's first place award. This was in light of the fact that Hearst confirmed it included at least some fabricated material.
That motion was withdrawn today, meaning the board is currently focused on discussing a motion to launch its own investigation of his two prize-winning stories. The board's discussion will conclude today at 5 p.m., at which point any motions need to have been made and seconded in order to be part of the ensuing voting process.
“The discussion now is going to see whether [the] board chooses to do its own investigation,” Campbell said. “Hearst has gone out and they've obviously done their part to remove Paresh's work from the website, and they removed him from his position. So right now we’re discussing whether we should look into our own investigation or take the Hearst investigation.”
He said the board received confirmation from David McCumber, Hearst Newspaper’s top editorial person in Connecticut, that Jha’s first place prize entry was fabricated. A brief statement from McCumber to the board also said Jha’s third-place story, "Teachers, students weigh in on Twain controversy," checks out.
"We have confirmed all of the sources in this story,” he told them in writing.
But McCumber, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Poynter or other media outlets, did not offer any information beyond his brief comments about the two winning stories.
“That was his sole response,” Campbell said.
Neither McCumber nor the paper have provided a full list of Jha’s offenses, an updated total number of fabricated pieces, or any official comment beyond the end-of-day Friday statement on the News’ website.
Campbell said the dearth of information from McCumber and Hearst is why the board is considering its own investigation.
One delicate issue is the board includes current and former Hearst Newspaper staffers and/or contractors. CTSPJ president Cindy Simoneau, whose term ends on June 30, is currently a current consulting editor of Hearst's Connecticut Post. She said it's a contract position and "That work is limited to college interns and a program for high school students." He full-time job is as a associate professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.
The board also includes former Hearst Newspaper employee Vinti Singh, who worked at the New Canaan News, and current "part-time A1 page designer and copy editor" for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Jamie DeLoma.
Campbell was unable to say if any board members had recused themselves from the discussion, but said the board is working hard to remain impartial. It’s also being careful about weighing the fact that any action taken will set a precedent for future CTSPJ boards, he said.
“Should we rescind this award, how is that going to set a precedent for future boards? That’s one thing we need to be careful of and determine the right action,” he said.
One of the hallmarks of this story since day one is that none of the people involved have been wiling to talk – not Jha, not McCumber, not Jha’s editor Ashley Varese, or others at the paper.
I asked Campbell why he was willing to speak about how the board is tacking this issue.
“I firmly believe in transparency,” he said, “and obviously this is an issue that is very concerning to journalists not just in the state but in the country. We want to, as a board, make a correct decision."
“All of us feel very strongly about this,” he said.
By tomorrow night, they’ll have considered those feelings and voted.
Correction: This article originally and incorrectly stated CTSPJ president Cindy Simoneau is a former employee of Hearst Newspapers. In fact, as a current consulting editor of the Connecticut Post, she is an independent contractor with the Hearst-owned paper. Her previous time spent as a full-time employee with the Post came when it was under different ownership.