Alabama student journalist quoted ‘nearly 30′ fabricated sources

The Crimson White |

Journalism freshman Madison Roberts “fabricated sources in several news stories dating back to Jan. 10 of this year” in University of Alabama student paper The Crimson White, the paper says. The reporter “quoted nearly 30 students, none of whom could be found in the UA student directory or on social media,” the paper’s report said.

“I was overwhelmed and succumbed to a lot of pressure I’d been under,” Roberts told the paper in an email. The paper’s copy editors discovered her fabrications while fact-checking names earlier this month; a subsequent review of Roberts’ work turned up more bogus sources. Roberts “has been removed from the paper’s staff,” the paper says.

“It is hard to tell how long or to what depth this one rogue reporter’s actions will tarnish our image, our credibility and our integrity,” Crimson White Editor-in-Chief Will Tucker writes in a follow-up piece. “But The Crimson White will carry on.” He adds:

We have also determined that an April Fool’s Day paper, a tradition of the past few years, is entirely inappropriate in light of this discovery. The April 1 paper, for the past few years, has used fabricated sources to create satire and jokes about topical campus issues. has added editor’s notes to its blog posts that linked to stories by Roberts, like this one about parking permit fees.

“This report is a summary of a Crimson White story that was later found to have included fabricated sources,” one note reads.

The CW reported on March 20 that one of its reporters quoted nearly 30 students who could not be found in the UA student directory or on social media by CW editors. The CW has removed those stories from its website.

Related: College Media Association president ‘unconvinced’ students are plagiarizing, fabricating more than in the past | 10 ways to prevent plagiarism, fabrication at college newspapers (and in any newsroom)

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  • JTFloore

    it probably has been happening for years. we just didn’t know it. instead of, say, 5 news sources reporting this kind of thing in the past, there are 100 today. what used to be meaningless trivia has been raised to the level of supposedly important news because every news outlet is trying to report things nobody else is reporting, and they’ve got a lot of time/space to fill.

    when I was a kid, the national network news programs at dinnertime ran only 15 minutes, and there was 15 minutes of local news. sometime in the 1970s, I think it was, those became 30-minute broadcasts, and local tv news shows went to 30 minutes and now an hour or more. we’ve got, what, at least four 24-hour cable news channels and countless other news sources on the internet? when you’ve got never-ending broadcast time to fill and 24-hour internet news from countless sources, a whole lot more stuff gets reported.

  • Robert Knilands

    It wasn’t always conclusive then, either. But the names appeared often enough that it was regarded as a decent safeguard.

  • Chris Zubak-Skees

    When I edited at a college publication a few years ago, we did, too. But students could request to have their name hidden in the online student directory, so it wasn’t always conclusive that it wasn’t there. It’s still a little shocking that she got away with it for so long.

  • Robert Knilands

    I see your point. But I think it is of interest to know what is happening at college papers. Many of them have far less content and focus far less on the content than in previous times. But pointing that out goes against Poynter’s agenda, so we get this instead.

  • Dionne N. Walker

    I usually don’t respond to these but for goodness sake – why does it seem like this sort of thing is on the rise, not the decline?

  • dccyclist

    Why are the nonviolent misdeeds of a college freshman, probably a teenager, of national interest?

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Hi Robert, according to the paper Roberts is no longer on staff, and the paper removed her stories from its website. The article lists the stories removed as well as the dates they were published.

  • Robert Sterner

    Any word on what the punishment was/might be?

  • Paul J Elliott

    I hope that none of these fake sources turns out to be real, like another Zenaida Gonzalez, to come back and file a lawsuit.

  • Robert Knilands

    Back in the day, we used to look up all names of sources in the directory before they were published. If the fact checking is this sporadic, then a training session might be in order.