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The Cape Cod Times (CCTimes) is the only regional daily covering the area from the Cape Cod Canal to the tip of Provincetown. The current print circulation, according to advertising information, has followed the industry-wide trend: in 2006 -49, 000 weekdays and 56,000 Sundays dwindling to 2011's numbers - 38,000 weekdays and 48,000 Sundays. Twenty years ago, the average weekly circulation was 65,000.  The paper has a reputation for leaning right which was only made worse when Rupert Murdoch purchased its parent company Dow Jones Corp in 2007.

Although the paper endorsed the incumbent Democrat in the congressional race this year for reasons locals understand, they frustrated many of us by endorsing both Mitt Romneyand Scott (Senator Centerfold) Brown confirming what many consider  the newspaper’s and Cape Cod’s overall conservative reputation.  I like to call Cape Cod the red finger of Massachusetts. (Thankfully, though, the Cape went blue for the presidential race this year, but stayed red for the senate race.)
cctimesapology
Late last night a breaking news alert showed up in email inboxes from our local Patch. The publisher of the Cape Cod Times had issued a letter of apology to its readers (full letter below the squiggle.) A long-time reporter was fired for using made-up sources in her stories.  

There is an implied contract between a newspaper and its readers. The paper prints the truth. Readers believe that it's true.

It's not always so simple, of course. There are nuances in how a story is presented, what words are used to describe the action. Papers have personalities, and no two are exactly alike, but at the end of the day, facts are facts. And a good newspaper holds nothing more sacred than its role to tell the truth. Always. As fully and as fairly as possible.

This is our guiding principle, so it is with heavy heart that we tell you the Cape Cod Times has broken that trust. An internal review has found that one of our reporters wrote dozens of stories that included one or more sources who do not exist.

On one hand, the letter is impressive because it appears the publisher and editor have decided rather than sweep it all under the rug, they would come clean to their readers.

But, as the story began to pick up steam in our local television stations and other newspapers, they all seemed to using the same to quote from the letter that minimized the situation, suggesting the reporter only falsified sources in fluffier pieces:

The stories with suspect sourcing were typically lighter fare — a story on young voters, a story on getting ready for a hurricane, a story on the Red Sox home opener — where some or all of the people quoted cannot be located.
She had been a court reporter for many years during her career, so there will be questions about whether those stories were OK. The attempt to diminish concern by saying it was the “lighter” pieces she was assigned to that included made up subjects, quotes, and sources, is what the other media outlets have picked up.

But isn't trust the issue?

Clearly, our local corporate news outlets are concerned that this story will breed or even expand mistrust in our local media, thus it would be best to diminish the story.

The CCTimes president/publisher is a local man, with a reputation as a friendly family-oriented guy. He is also, without a doubt, a republican who votes in every election, confirmed by GOTV voting records.

In the past few years, coverage of our local Democratic events has declined to the point where we have contacted the paper, with no response. Earlier this year, however, the now fired reporter covered an annual Democratic event. She arrived with a sour, unfriendly attitude, sat down in one place and unlike reporters who’ve covered the event in the past, she made no effort to circulate and little effort talk to people. The story that resulted was so negative it was embarrassing. It seemed to reflect the attitude she came in with, looking for the negative and not the overall sense of those who attended. Of course it was during a slow news time and the story made the front page, above the fold.  

I was a journalism student, even edited a college paper. I understand the rules of journalism. But during the past 10 plus years in municipal government, my trust in local journalism has eroded. My respect for the profession has dwindled. It is frustrating to attend meetings covered by reporters whose stories make it seem they weren’t even in the same room. I see too many shortcuts and stories that are slanted, yet we are helpless to do anything about it. When the story hits the paper, even if a correction is issued, the damage is done.  

Newspapers can make or break careers. They have more influence than many of us want to admit. I can only hope that here on Massachusetts’s red finger, the journalists who write the stories and the editors who can change the stories, will look themselves in the mirror more often now and ask if a story reflects what actually happened or simply supports some preconceived position.  

And, I know that this would all be so much easier to take, and trust could be better reestablished, if the paper in question wasn’t owned, ultimately, by Rupert Murdoch. Will all of the media in his empire eventually follow the Roger Ailes model?  

I truly hope not. I want to believe that somewhere down the line; those now old-fashioned rules of journalism will become the standard once again.  

An apology to Times readers

By Peter Meyer, Publisher
and Paul Pronovost, Editor
December 05, 2012

There is an implied contract between a newspaper and its readers. The paper prints the truth. Readers believe that it's true.

It's not always so simple, of course. There are nuances in how a story is presented, what words are used to describe the action. Papers have personalities, and no two are exactly alike, but at the end of the day, facts are facts. And a good newspaper holds nothing more sacred than its role to tell the truth. Always. As fully and as fairly as possible.

This is our guiding principle, so it is with heavy heart that we tell you the Cape Cod Times has broken that trust. An internal review has found that one of our reporters wrote dozens of stories that included one or more sources who do not exist.

The reporter was Karen Jeffrey, 59, a writer for the Cape Cod Times since 1981. In an audit of her work, Times editors have been unable to find 69 people in 34 stories since 1998, when we began archiving stories electronically.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey admitted to fabricating people in some of these articles and giving some others false names. She no longer works for the Cape Cod Times.

We were able to verify sourcing in many stories written by Jeffrey, mostly police and court news, political stories, and recently a series on returning war veterans. The stories with suspect sourcing were typically lighter fare — a story on young voters, a story on getting ready for a hurricane, a story on the Red Sox home opener — where some or all of the people quoted cannot be located.

In 2011, for example, a story on the Fourth of July parade in Cotuit featured Johnson Coggins, 88, "the patriarch of the family" and a longtime Cotuit summer resident. No one by that name can be found using public-records searches and there is no Coggins in the town of Barnstable's assessor's database. We were unable to locate five other people featured in that story.

In a 2006 story on the Falmouth Road Race, we were unable to find five individuals, including Daniel Fortes of San Diego, a marathon runner who, Jeffrey wrote, has run the Boston Marathon and the Falmouth race but was sidelined with an injury that year. Fortes could not be found using public records and no one with that name had competed in the Falmouth race or the Boston Marathon for the five years leading up to the story, according to the races' websites.

Times editors reviewed Jeffrey's stories using a variety of search techniques, including a public-records database tool called Accurint, searches of voter rolls and town assessor's records, a review of Facebook profiles and attempted phone calls, in an effort to find the sources.

The investigation of Jeffrey's work began Nov. 12 when a Veterans Day assignment raised questions among editors, who decided to closely review the story Jeffrey wrote.

Jeffrey's Veterans story begins this way:

"CHATHAM — Ronald Chipman and his family were strolling along Chatham's Main Street when they noticed traffic slowed. A crowd of people gathered at the small rotary ahead.

"Flags, uniforms, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The Chipmans were momentarily puzzled.

"'I looked at my wife. She looked back at me. We had the same guilty thought — Veterans Day — and we thought nothing about it except as a long weekend on the Cape until we saw that,' said Chipman, 46, a Boston resident. 'You live in the city and sometimes you forget about things like this — about things still mattering to people,' he said."

The editors were unable to find the Chipman family. When asked if she could help locate the family, Jeffrey said she could not because she threw away her notes.

A story a month earlier featured four people we could not find. Then another story with unfound sources. Then another. In our initial examination, going back to Aug. 1, 2011, we were unable to find 15 sources in six stories.

An expanded review of Jeffrey's work uncovered dozens of additional stories with suspect sources. We spot-checked work prior to 1998, when we relied on paper clips for archives, but have not found any questionable sourcing. We do not have a full archive of each reporter's clips prior to 1998.

A review of several other reporters' work turned up sources without difficulty. We are confident this situation was isolated to Jeffrey.

How did this happen? Or more important, how did we allow this to happen? It's a question we cannot satisfactorily answer. Clearly we placed too much trust in a reporter and did not verify sourcing with necessary frequency.

It's an editor's job to scrutinize a reporter's work and be sure what we publish is fair and accurate; at the same time, there also is a level of trust between a reporter and an editor. Reporters take this responsibility to heart and when someone treats their work with anything less than the highest ethical standards, good journalists are heartbroken. We can say with certainty that's how we feel at the Times.

We must learn from this painful lesson and take steps to prevent this from happening again. Moving forward, we will be spot-checking reporting sources more frequently, choosing stories at random and calling sources to verify they exist.

As always, we also invite you to let us know if there appears to be a mistake. We believe in transparency, and we welcome any feedback on any story at any time. Be assured we will use this incident as part of an ethics training session for newsroom staff.

We also are in the process of removing Jeffrey's questionable stories or passages of stories from capecodonline.com and will replace the suspect content with a note that explains why it was removed. That process is beginning today.

This column is our first step toward addressing what we uncovered. We needed to share these details, as uncomfortable as they are, because we are more than a private company dealing with a personnel issue — we are a newspaper and we have broken our trust with you. We deeply regret this happened and extend our personal apology to you.

(the comments that follow the story on the CCTimes website are interesting)

Originally posted to 51 Percent on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:13 PM PST.

Also republished by Massachusetts Kosmopolitans and Boston Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    Women are 51% of the population yet are represented in congress by barely 17%! Until our representation reflects the population, we risk sliding backwards .....

    by 51percent on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:13:17 PM PST

  •  Meh - it's the same shit Mike Barnicle did at the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ConfusedSkyes, Vatexia

    Globe.

    Of course it's unethical and she should be fired for it, as she has been.  But, these were not hard news or political stories, they were more human / local interest stories in which she appears to have made up characters that basically express her opinion on the event/situation.

    It's what Barnicle did in his stories at the Globe - wrote about the reality of poverty, or of living with violence, etc. but made up some of the characters or stories.  If you look back at Barnicle's stories, I would conclude that he imparted the Truth, if not the facts. I see that Barnicle has redeemed himself, with a regular slot on Morning Joe.

    I wouldn't tie this in to Murdoch or say that only Republican newspapers do it. Hell, if this is all Murdoch's media companies were guilty of, I'm sure he'd be a happier man today.

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by absdoggy on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:25:50 PM PST

    •  if you read the story (6+ / 0-)

      of course they are playing it as fluff stories, but what defines fluff?  There was/would be a huge concern because she was their court reporter for years, but who needs to falsify court stories when the story is handed to you ... she basically reported on what she was seeing in the courtroom and using transcripts etc.

      The audit has only just begun.
      And, Barnacle falsified in his column. She falsified in straight news stories. big difference.

      I can tell you that around here people are coming out of the woodwork w/stories about her reporting... raising even more questions.

      Women are 51% of the population yet are represented in congress by barely 17%! Until our representation reflects the population, we risk sliding backwards .....

      by 51percent on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:32:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Distinction without a difference (4+ / 0-)

      She made up quotes to create a deliberately false narrative. It makes no difference if it's hard news or fluff.

      "CHATHAM — Ronald Chipman and his family were strolling along Chatham's Main Street when they noticed traffic slowed. A crowd of people gathered at the small rotary ahead.

      "Flags, uniforms, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The Chipmans were momentarily puzzled.

      "'I looked at my wife. She looked back at me. We had the same guilty thought — Veterans Day — and we thought nothing about it except as a long weekend on the Cape until we saw that,' said Chipman, 46, a Boston resident. 'You live in the city and sometimes you forget about things like this — about things still mattering to people,' he said."

      •  Distinction with a difference (0+ / 0-)

        Look at this story - do you really care if the Chipmans exist or not? Aren't many Americans guilty of ignoring Veteran's Day, of not appreciating and honoring the sacrifices and service of veterans? Don't many of us find Veteran's Day sales to be crass commercialism? Don't many of us lament that students get the day off and go skateboarding, or sleep all day, and never contemplate the meaning of the holiday?

        Yes, what she did was wrong, I'm glad she's fired.  But the essential truth of the story is real, it is not a deliberately false narrative. It is a valid point that many of us go throughout Veteran's Day without a thought to its true meaning or how we should honor veterans.

        So, it's an improper use of artistic license in a story in which artistic license should not be used. It's not Fox News making shit up about the president's birthplace, or distorting facts about climate change. I can't condemn the whole paper or say that its ownership had anything to do with this.  

        Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

        by absdoggy on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 07:38:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes - I do care whether they exist (0+ / 0-)

          because if they don't, it isn't news, it's fiction.

          Women are 51% of the population yet are represented in congress by barely 17%! Until our representation reflects the population, we risk sliding backwards .....

          by 51percent on Thu Dec 06, 2012 at 12:41:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Barnicle's not 'redeemed'... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a2nite

      ... but sure he's exiled to Morning 'Ho.  And occasionally elsewhere on the MSNBC schedule, which was usually a cause for me to turn off the TV.

      I'd like to see him try to come back to Boston; neither the Globe nor Channel 5 will have anything to do with him.

  •  What does her firing have to do with (3+ / 0-)

    Romney/Brown?

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot

    by paulitics on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:40:16 PM PST

    •  the paper endorsements (0+ / 0-)

      and to many of us in the local democratic organizations, this paper's progressively more obviously bias and it remains the only local daily. We read the Globe now, after too many stories reporting on situations we've been very close to, seem to be reported with major bias

      Women are 51% of the population yet are represented in congress by barely 17%! Until our representation reflects the population, we risk sliding backwards .....

      by 51percent on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:48:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But that doesn't answer my question. (0+ / 0-)

        The fact the CCT may lean rightward and endorsed Republican candidates has nothing to do with the fact that one of their reporters fabricated sources in her reporting.

        I don't see why "Romney" and "Brown" are included in the title of a diary that has basically nothing to do with either of them.

        "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot

        by paulitics on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 01:54:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  you know what? I would normally hold my ground (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          paulitics, davidincleveland, madhaus

          but I am getting used to this community blogging as opposed to my own, and you are both right.

          I have had some difficult political problems with this paper lately. I really like the publisher, personally and have good relationship with one of their reporters, but their move to the right has been so obvious in reporting and columns.

          Even though I see red when I read the paper and those endorsements still ring in my ears, I suppose they don't belong in the title.

          Thanks

          Women are 51% of the population yet are represented in congress by barely 17%! Until our representation reflects the population, we risk sliding backwards .....

          by 51percent on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 02:03:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  We have a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    davidincleveland

    local daily paper?

    Huh. Well, I would subscribe, but Rupert Murdoch has enough money.

  •  She had a great feature on Jukt Micronics. NT (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    madhaus
    •  Don't you D.A.R.E. bring them up! (0+ / 0-)

      Then there was the writer from the NYT. Blocking on the name... Anyone remember her?

      Btw Glass is trying to get the California Bar to accept him. His appeal went to the State Supreme Court, as the Bar Association said he didn't meet their moral fitness guidelines. He wasn't admitted to the NY Bar either ( having passed both exams).

  •  What Next? (0+ / 0-)

    I guess someone will claim that Mike Royko invented Slats Grobnik, or that Damon Runyon just came up with Nathan Detroit.

    Oh the horror!

    best,

    john

    Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long

    by jabney on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 02:31:55 PM PST

  •  Sounds to me like she was burnishing her (0+ / 0-)

    credentials for Fox News.

    She's a perfect choice for them. And a big pay raise, too!

    I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

    My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

    by pucklady on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 04:39:54 PM PST

  •  They would have fired Ben Franklin, for sure. (0+ / 0-)

    Never mind.

    "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

    by GrumpyOldGeek on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 04:41:59 PM PST

  •  It this is a right-wing, GOP-oriented newspaper, (0+ / 0-)

    then it must have publiied many demonstrably untrue things over the years -Colin Powell's UN statement, statements by Condie Rice, Dick Cheney, etc. So, why is this reporter's conduct worse?

    "...stories of past courage can define that ingredient..... But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." JFK Profiles in Courage " Ontario

    by ontario on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 07:21:15 PM PST

  •  Sorry for typo - If this is a right-wing..... (0+ / 0-)

    "...stories of past courage can define that ingredient..... But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." JFK Profiles in Courage " Ontario

    by ontario on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 07:22:23 PM PST

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