Probe Delivers Mixed Verdict on Mitch Albom

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By: E&P Staff

A much-awaited review of more than 600 columns by Mitch Albom by his home newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, has found no evidence of other cases similar to an April 3 column in which he wrote about events that never occurred at a basketball game. However, the paper found that Albom has used quotes from other newspapers, TV programs, or other publications without indicating that he did not gather the material himself, in violation of Free Press rules on crediting sources.

Albom strongly defended his integrity in about five hours of interviews. He said editors approved using quotes without attribution and that other columnists operate in the same fashion around the country.

Indeed, the review found that other Free Press columnists also have failed to give credit for quotes gathered by others. Free Press Publisher and Editor Carole Leigh Hutton said this mainly reflected a lack of familiarity with the paper’s rules on attribution. The probe found
that top editors at the paper failed to ensure that columnists worked under uniform standards for attribution.

In one interesting finding, according to the paper, “quotes cited by Albom were worded slightly differently from how they appeared elsewhere in the media, with the quotes seeming to be livelier in some cases.” Asked about those quotes, Albom insisted the passages were “essentially accurate.”

The paper added, “The majority of Albom’s work indicated an attention to accuracy. Story subjects, from professional athletes to ordinary people, praised his efforts to get facts right.”

Albom said it was common for Free Press sports columnists to lift quotes. “There has never been a question to me about attribution. It was understood,” Albom said. “As long as the quotes were accurate, if they came from other sources, attribution could be used or it could not be used, particularly in the Sunday columns, which I think are more like essays than anything else.”

But Geneva Overholser, a University of Missouri journalism professor, told the paper that columnists shared the duty to attribute: “You have to be truthful; you can’t imply that you did work that you didn’t do. It’s all about accurate impressions.”

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