September 10, 2012

The Yale Daily News has completed its review of reporting by Liane Membis, a former staff reporter who was fired from an internship at the Wall Street Journal this summer after fabricating quotes from sources in several stories. (The Huffington Post also removed a Membis piece for the same reason.)

After investigating 35 reported articles written by Membis between 2009 and 2010, the News found no evidence of fabrication in her work. All sources quoted were real people, but three of them raised concerns about the way their words were represented. The paper’s fact-checking process also uncovered several errors in Membis’ work.

As with the recent plagiarism at The State Press at Arizona State University, the Yale paper did a good job of investigating previous work and sharing the results with readers.

In one disconcerting example of quotation issues found by the paper, Membis changed and added words to an emailed statement from a source.

This quote:

I think more prerequisites are not necessarily a bad move, because one of the reasons that turns junior architecture into a hefty shake for most people is the lack of a solid background (both in theory and in practice).

Became this quote:

And the other thing that gets junior architecture majors into a hefty shake is the lack of a solid historical background, both in theory and in practice.

“Although basic copy-editing of an email interview is acceptable, adding words to a direct quotation is not,” wrote editor-in-chief Max de La Bruyère. “The article in question has since been corrected online, with an editor’s note explaining the changes.”

De La Bruyère also pointed to an incorrect Membis paraphrase of the same source where she again added words that weren’t stated.

“This was the most egregious of a number of errors the News found in articles by Membis, which have since been corrected,” he wrote.

Membis’ work also included misspelled names and titles, and inaccurate quotes. The paper added corrections and editor’s notes to her work.

As a result of the investigation, it has “added further emphasis on sourcing, fact-checking, and journalistic ethics to our training for new journalists.”

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Craig Silverman ( is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
Craig Silverman

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