Now in Sacramento: Columnist Resigns When Sources Can’t Be Verified

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By: Joe Strupp

Diana Griego Erwin, a columnist for The Sacramento Bee, resigned Wednesday after editors said they could not verify the existence of some people mentioned in her columns, the Bee reported.

In a note to readers published Thursday, Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez praised Erwin’s time at the paper but said her failure to prove that none of those named in her columns were fictitious sparked her resignation.

“During our inquiry we found we could not authenticate the existence of several people even though they were identified by name, age and sometimes by the neighborhoods in which they were reported to have lived,” his note said. “We used extensive online database searches as well as old-fashioned shoe-leather work in our investigation over the past 2 1/2 weeks.

“Griego Erwin has said throughout the inquiry that there was no fabrication of sources,” the note continued. “When asked to provide confirmation, however, she was unable to do so to our satisfaction. She resigned citing personal reasons while still maintaining that her sources ultimately will be proved authentic.”

“Thank you to The Bee for the honor of giving me a column these many years and to my faithful, spirited readers,” Erwin said in a statement that Rodriguez referenced. “I did nothing wrong, but could not fully prove that to The Bee. My gratitude also to the thousands of people who let me into their lives. I loved telling your stories.”

Erwin had written her thrice-weekly column for 12 years at the Bee, the paper reported. She had also garnered numerous awards, the paper said.

“Diana has a long record of accomplishment in journalism,” Rodriguez wrote. “She was part of a two-person team that earned the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for the Denver Post in 1986 and won the George Polk award the previous year. While at the Orange County Register, she won the American Society of Newspaper Editors award for best column writing in 1990. And she won multiple national, regional, statewide and local awards while at The Bee.”

But, he added, “even those kinds of credentials must take a back seat when we believe that the standards for reporting and writing at The Bee — and indeed our industry — have not been met. Unfortunately, we feel that is the case here.”

Rodriquez also acknowledged the current state of newspaper credibility problems and heightened scrutiny of reporters, saying, “this comes at a time when the news industry has been hit with a series of high-profile ethical lapses in print and broadcast. And this kind of unfortunate story can’t help but cut into our credibility. One of the reasons more cases are being disclosed is because there are more sources through which authenticity can be checked and our readers correctly are demanding more accountability and transparency.”

The paper reported that its review of Erwin’s work occurred after an editor flagged a column more than two weeks ago that had “inadequate sourcing” and was held. That sparked a review of several columns from recent months, which continue to be reviewed.

“Many of the named sources were, of course, exactly who they were reported to be,” Rodriguez reported. “But in a handful of cases — too many by far — we found we could not verify their existence even after extensive research. We feel that is a violation of our procedures and we apologize to our readers for any lapse that compromised our high standards and your trust.”

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