TV columnist canned

By: Joe Strupp

But Star/News executive says he still trusts his staff

Although he had to fire his tv columnist Sept. 7 for plagiarism, Indianapolis Star and News executive editor Frank Caperton says he will continue to trust his staff’s reporting and does not believe any new ethical safeguards are needed.
“We hire journalism professionals, and we trust them,” Caperton says. “Unless there is reason to doubt it, we trust that the work turned in is that of the person who turned it in. We already have a policy that you don’t make things up and you do your own work.”
Caperton’s comments followed the firing of tv writer Steve Hall, who lost his job of 13 years after editors found an alleged pattern of plagiarism in articles dating back as far as 1997.
Hall, who had been suspended without pay for three weeks Aug. 27 after admitting he plagiarized one column, was given the permanent pink slip after editors found evidence of plagiarism in at least six previous articles.
“We looked at a fairly large number of stories and found half a dozen that concerned us,” says Caperton. “He is dismissed, and we are satisfied with the action we have taken.”
In a statement printed in the Star/News Sept. 8, Caperton explained the action to readers. “Hall had been warned at the time of his suspension that he would be dismissed if further lapses came to light,” the statement says.
But Hall has defended his stories and says he never stole anyone’s work. “If there were similarities, it was totally unconscious on my part,” says the 41-year-old veteran columnist.
Hall says it should not surprise anyone that two reporters who cover the same event or review the same programs write similar accounts. “It is inevitable when you get writers doing the same thing on deadline,” he says. “I never made up anything. I wrote about shows I watched and press conferences I went to.”
The ex-columnist says he will not fight the dismissal and will not pursue any legal action against the newspaper, but he slams it for making the issue public.
Hall also blames editors, in part, for contributing to the problem by piling work on him. “Part of the problem is they judge performance on story count,” he says, claiming his current situation stems from a rush to finish stories. “Unless you are a high producer, you are not meeting standards.”
Caperton denies Hall’s charge of overwork, saying the writer tried to do too many stories on his own. “Mr. Hall was advised by his editors that he didn’t need to produce as much as he was producing,” Caperton says. “Any overwork was self-inflicted.”
Hall, who is married to a Star/News library employee and the father of two children, also criticizes the newspaper for making his initial suspension public with a front-page story. He contends the matter should have been discussed in-house only. “I wasn’t happy with the way the paper handled the entire thing,” says Hall. “I feel like it is not a big thing to most readers.”
(Editor & Publisher [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 11, 1999) [Caption]

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