WUSA President and General Manager Allan Horlick says the station has removed a story from its website after learning that portions of it were taken from a Washington Post piece on the same subject.
The error happened, Horlick said by phone Friday, when “an assignment editor saw the piece in the Post and cut and pasted the body of the information into an email” that was then sent to Web producer Ashley Jennings, who thought it was a press release to be rewritten and published on WUSA9.com.
The Gannett CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., published the story Thursday about Fairfax City Mayor Robert Lederer’s resignation three hours after Post reporter Tom Jackman’s story was published.
Several paragraphs appear verbatim in both stories — though Jackman’s has since been updated with corrected information while the WUSA version has two errors that originally appeared in the Post piece.
“I had no intention of replicating someone else’s work. I’ve never done that,” Jennings said by phone Friday. When the story was sent to her, she was working on rewriting five press releases during the same 30-40-minute window, she said.
Horlick said this type of thing has never happened in the six years he’s been at the station and that “if we were dealing with a work environment where we had people being taxed beyond normal resources, things like this might be more frequent.”
“I don’t recall any conversations about a relationship between the quantity and quality of work other than you referencing this issue now,” he told me.
The station intends to learn from the experience and plans to communicate to the assignment editor and everyone else to “remember: you can avoid the prospect of an error by always referencing — as you’re forwarding material — where it came from.”
Jennings, who started at the station in June after graduating from college, had announced a few weeks ago that she plans to leave Dec. 30 because she’s looking for an on-air position. She has a few interviews scheduled, said Fred D’Ambrosi, director of WUSA’s news/information center.
Jennings learned of the problem with her story Thursday when she got a call from the Post and immediately took steps to “deactivate” her story and delete it. The story continued to appear online, somehow.
Jackman discovered Jennings’ story after he saw it tweeted with the same headline as his; he emailed her Thursday but he did not hear back.
Below is a screenshot of the story before it was removed. Here’s a link to Jackman’s original.