Update 6-25-12 (2:15pm): A former elected political official from New Canaan told me they were misquoted by Paresh while running for local office and complained to his editor Ashley Varese last year but no changes were made. Varese has not responded for comment
Hearst Newspaper’s lead reporter for New Canaan, Ct was fired yesterday after its editors discovered he’d been making up quotes and sources. Paresh Jha started with the paper two years ago and was initially assigned as a court reporter. New Canaanites have seen his local politics and feature reporting on the front page of the New Canaan News for over a year now. The paper announced the news during a slow news cycle on Friday after 5pm, initially admitting 25 instances had been found and the stories affected were taken down.
Hearst CT News Editor in Chief , David McCumber, didn’t list which stories had fabricated parts but I found a recent piece titled ‘Teen Marijuana use on the Rise – New Canaan and Darien teens think it’s OK’ removed. The cover story ran in the June 1st, 2012 edition and leads with a Darien High School student talking about pot smoking saying, “I think in our school, there is a general consensus that it’s OK and people talk about it openly. If you think it’s wrong you’re in the minority.”
Now that’s a pretty strong quote for a reporter to get a High School student to say on the record and it’s unclear if this was fabricated but it came from a story that was just removed. It begs to question if Paresh was under pressure to get quotes like this from his editors, did it drive his decision to violate of the most important rules of journalism? We don’t get to make stuff up!
Ironically Paresh had just won a reporting award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalist.
New Canaan News wrote last month, “Jha, who’s been with the New Canaan News for two years, earned a first-place award in the community non-daily category for his in-depth series, “Enabling underage partying,” which focused on parents’ roles in underage drinking.”
His editors are still fact checking his stories to see if they find additional made up quotes or sourcing on top of the 25 they reported last night. Paresh’s reporting showed up in other Hearst-owned papers like the CTPost, Stamford Advocate, and Darien News. His editors haven’t told readers which quotes were made up yet. It’s unclear what Hearst is doing to make sure if the AP picked up any of his reporting that it’s corrected. Kind of makes for a clusterfuck.
The fired reporter was the only staff journalist on the New Canaan News Masthead and works under editors Ashley Varese and Belinda Stasivkiewicz. Both ladies run the New Canaan and Darien weekly print papers for Hearst. Ashley is the Editor-in-Chief and would be responsible for story ideas, assignment and possible line editing of Paresh’s stories. Belinda is the Managing Editor and responsible for getting the stories to print. When I worked for Hearst CT Newspapers (Greenwich Time) one of the M.E.’s role was fact checking; they are operationally in-charge and responsible for the final print. Belinda recently tweeted she was stressed with her upcoming wedding and if she was responsible for the bulk of the fact checking I have to wonder if that contributed to her taking her eye off the ball in the editing process. Belinda’s Linkedin profile shows she graduated from Quinnipiac journalism school in 2007 and primary interest are arts and fashion. She’s been the managing editor of both local weeklies since 2009. But at the end of the day both Ashley and Belinda should be responsible for Paresh’s reporting.
Twenty-five instances of fabricated quotes over the course of a year shows a serious breakdown in Hearst editorial practices. It also highlights how an under-paid and under-staffed weekly paper, even one that should have high-end edit standards like Hearst, can fall apart when there aren’t enough bodies to do the time consuming research and editing needed to print quality journalism.
Varese and Stasivkiewicz didn’t return emails for comment. I asked about their fact checking process – one I’m sure they’ll be scrambling to revamp. There is also blame at the most senior level, David McCumber EIC of all Hearst CT Newspapers. McCumber fell on his sword a bit telling the papers readers, “We apologize to our readers,” McCumber said. “A newspaper’s credibility is its most important asset. This is a gross violation of our standards, and of the New Canaan News’ well-earned reputation.”
Paresh Jha could not be reached for comment. But with violations like this his jurno career is over. McCumber did not respond to questions about if the fabricated stories will be detailed so New Canaanites can see which news events were not factually reported. I did get a somewhat stressed email from him asking who I was reporting this for – My readers obviously David.
UPDATE 6-25-12: Potyner, a jouranlism education group, has picked up on my suggestion that McCumber needs to offer transparency and list the stories that had fabricated elements in them. Potyner’s blogger, Craig Silverman, has some strong words about the situation but knowing how Hearst operates it’s likely going to take public reader response to get them to follow journalistic standards and inform the reader which stories are wrong.
Editors Note: If you have ever been the subject of one of Paresh stories and felt like you were miss-quoted or facts were made up I’d love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org. If you think McCumber should list each fabricated story you can contact him at: David.McCumber@scni.com. If you are interested in my prior relationship or staff reporting job with McCumber’s paper you can read about here.
For those new to my reporting I was just named one of the top five financial journalist to watch, by the Huffington Post, for outing fraud and going up against the establishment to inform the reader best.