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Northwestern University
The Medill School of Journalism

Newspaper Reporter and Editor Attitudes Toward Credibility, Errors and Ethics

Deliberate Misconduct

Although we included numerous items pertaining to dishonesty among coworkers and peers,
responses suggest this is less prevalent than problems with sources or editing. Nevertheless,
most respondents report being concerned about a peer's work at some time in their career.

♦ About 45 percent have suspected a peer of plagiarism and 30 percent of all respondents
(60 percent of the suspicious ones) have had such doubts proven. Some 25 percent
have personally uncovered peer dishonesty and 20 percent have directly confronted a
coworker they suspected of producing erroneous or plagiarized reports.

♦ About 50 percent have taken concerns about a peer to a manager. But from responses
to other questions, we know that some of these cases had as much to do with personal
behavior or harassment as they did with reporting flaws.

♦ Only five percent have ever taken concerns about a coworker to a union official.

Experience with Ethical Problems over the Past Five Years

When asked specifically, “Has there been a problem with unethical or unprofessional
behavior in the newsroom in which you work in the past five years?” 53 percent of
respondents answer, “Yes.”

♦ “Yes” votes are more common from respondents at large newspapers (61 percent) than
from those at small newspapers (47 percent).

♦ Editors are more likely (59 percent) to cite problems than are reporters (47 percent).

♦ Minority respondents are more likely to say “yes” (66 percent) than are others.

♦ In any event, it appears that at least half of all newspaper journalists in the country have
worked with a peer involved in fabrication, plagiarism or other deliberate misconduct..”

How Misconduct is Discovered

Instances of unethical behavior by newspaper reporters are much more likely to come to
light through passive processes than as a result of active investigation.

♦ As the chart at right shows, almost
half of respondents (47 percent)
who have experienced newsroom
ethics problems say the troubles
simply came to light over time as
information accumulated, facts
failed to mesh and inconsistencies
became obvious.

♦ Less than one-third (30 percent)
cite active “internal investigation”
as a significant factor in uncovering
ethical misconduct.

♦ Active internal investigation is no
more common than “tips from
someone involved” (34 percent) or “confession” (28 percent).

♦ External investigation, whether by other media or law enforcement, occurs rarely.

Whether the low percentage of discovery by active investigation reflects complacency on the
part of newsroom managers, limited resources allocated to self-policing or great skill in
obfuscation by those perpetrating offenses is not entirely clear from the data.
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