By: Joe Strupp
Indianapolis Star/News TV writer admits to plagiarism
The Indianapolis Star and News’ decision to suspend a tv columnist who admitted to plagiarism ? instead of firing him outright ? drew mixed reactions from journalism veterans.
In yet another instance of a major newspaper punishing a staffer for an ethical breach, the Star/News suspended 13-year tv writer Steve Hall Aug. 27 for submitting an article that came from another news source.
Executive editor Frank Caperton says Hall was suspended without pay for three weeks and will be reassigned to another, noncolumn beat upon his return.
Industry observers differ in their responses to the punishment, with some saying suspension is enough and others saying such an ethical miscue deserves an outright dismissal.
“In my journalistic upbringing, knowingly, willingly, and wantingly plagiarizing is a fireable offense,” says Bill Drummond, a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of California at Berkeley. “This seems light, and it seems like there has been kind of a double standard for columnists and reviewers, compared to actual reporters.”
But others, such as Tom Goldstein, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, say someone who admits the mistake and has no previous record of deceit should be given a second chance.
“It seems like a sensible punishment,” says Goldstein. “He ‘fessed up, and it seems like an isolated incident. It is certainly a serious infraction, but you have to look at all the circumstances.”
Wendy Myers, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, agrees. “Three weeks without pay is a pretty serious punishment,” she says. “I’m sure they will make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.”
Caperton says Hall was suspended shortly after editors noticed that a story submitted by him for publication two weeks ago was “strikingly similar” to one written by a writer at another newspaper and distributed by a wire service.
Caperton would not say what the story was about, or where it was originally published but says Hall’s version did not run.
“We didn’t publish it, so I don’t think it’s anybody’s business” where it came from, Caperton says. “It was about a national tv topic, and when one of our editors took a look at it, they became suspicious, and there wasn’t much doubt about it.”
When asked if he had lifted the story, Hall admitted plagiarizing and was immediately suspended, Caperton says.
“We could have fired him, but we believed we could do this without a career death penalty,” he says. “He has been a terrific staffer, and he did not try to cover this up. It was our intention to make clear that this is not acceptable, but that it must be dealt with in a measurable and appropriate way.”
Star/News officials first announced Hall’s suspension with a statement on the newspaper’s Web site Aug. 27 that also was published in the Aug. 28 print edition.
“Star/News editors are deeply troubled by Hall’s action. A cardinal rule in newsrooms is that what appears under our name is our own work,” the statement says. “All of us ? including Steve Hall ? know that our readers’ trust in us depends on truth-telling and honesty.”
Hall could not be reached for comment, but the statement about his firing quotes him as saying, “because of time pressures, I made a stupid mistake and violated a sacred law of our profession. I apologize to our readers and my family, co-workers, and friends.”
Hall’s suspension comes just a week after The Arizona Republic fired columnist Julie Amparano (see story, p. 16) for failing to prove the existence of sources quoted in her column.
Just a few months ago, reporter Kim Stacy of the Owensboro (Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer (E&P, May 15, p. 19) lost her job for making up stories about a battle with cancer for a special Sunday column written at the request of her editors.
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(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 4, 1999) [Caption]