Connecticut SPJ board launches investigation into Paresh Jha’s award-winning articles
The board of the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists has launched its own investigation into several articles written by admitted serial fabricator Paresh Jha.
Jha was a reporter with the weekly New Canaan News who was exposed as a serial fabricator late last week. To date, there have been reports of fabrication in at least 27 of his articles. He hasn't commented publicly, and the paper and its owner, Hearst, have said little about Jha's offenses.
The Connecticut SPJ decision comes after deliberations about how to handle the fact that last month Jha took home first- and third- place prizes at the organization's 2011 Excellence in Journalism awards.
Hearst informed the board that the company had found fabricated material in one of the stories that won Jha a first-place award for in-depth series. The company said it found no other problems with his winning work.
But this week the board decided to investigate Jha's work for itself.
In a letter to members sent Friday, the board announced it had voted 10 to 1, with one abstention, to conduct its own investigation. It conducted a second vote today to name the investigator, Roy S. Gutterman, a media lawyer and Syracuse professor.
"Gutterman, a member of SPJ, is authorized to contact any individuals or organizations necessary to complete the investigation and make recommendations to the board on possible actions on the awards," the board wrote.
Gutterman is expected to deliver a report by July 31, at which point the board will decide what to do with Jha's awards.
"We are so concerned about these matters that we are considering professional programs on this topic," read the letter.
The full CTSPJ letter to members:
Dear Connecticut SPJ member:
As current officers representing the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, we are writing to inform you of recent actions taken concerning possible fabrications in entries to the 2011 Excellence in Journalism contest.
As you may know, former New Canaan News reporter Paresh Jha was dismissed from his job. The action followed the discovery that he had fabricated sources and quotes in published reports.
Upon learning of these developments, the Connecticut SPJ Board of Directors realized that Jha was recently selected for two awards in the 2011 Excellence in Journalism contest sponsored by the chapter. Jha won a third place award for feature writing and a first place award for in-depth reporting.
We immediately contacted Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, owner of the New Canaan News, asking if any portion of these award-winning entries were fabricated. David McCumber, editorial director for Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, who responded within half an hour, said that their investigation verified facts and sources in the feature story. Their investigation, however, found fabrications in one of the three stories in the series. Meanwhile, the Connecticut SPJ board began deliberations on whether to rescind the award(s) and/or to conduct our own independent investigation of the entries.
On Thursday, June 28, the board voted 10-1, with one member not voting, to conduct an independent investigation of these entries.
Today, the board further voted 10-1, with one member not voting, to authorize Roy S. Gutterman, a media lawyer and Syracuse professor, to conduct the independent investigation. Gutterman, a member of SPJ, is authorized to contact any individuals or organizations necessary to complete the investigation and make recommendations to the board on possible actions on the awards.
We expect the investigation to be completed and a report completed by July 31. After that, we will consider whether to act on the awards.
Connecticut SPJ is dedicated to preserving the integrity of our long-time contest, and to ensuring the continued confidence of journalists in our future contests.
We condemn all unethical practices and continue to applaud all media organizations for their swift action on ridding the industry of any violators.
Over the past year, we have been increasingly dismayed to see the on-going lapse in good journalistic practices. This is the third journalist to lose their job in the state over plagiarism or fabrication. (See Middletown Press and Fairfield Minuteman.)
We are so concerned about these matters that we are considering professional programs on this topic.
Your input on this matter, changes to our contest and any other SPJ- or journalism-related matter is valued by the Connecticut SPJ board.
Please take time to give your feedback on these issues. You may email us at email@example.com.
We will inform you of any future action taken on this matter. We hope see you at a future program.
Please check the chapter website at ctspj.org for updates on all future programming and news.
Cindy Simoneau, president
Don Stacom, vice president
Jamie DeLoma, vice president/communications
Jodie Mozdzer, treasurer (and president-elect)
Cara Baruzzi, secretary
Jerry Dunklee, past president
Correction: In one sentence, this article mistakenly referred to Paresh Jha as a plagiarist, rather than fabricator. There exists no evidence that he stole other people's work. Thanks to commenter Arhsim Yaniv for pointing out the error.