Cape Cod Times fires writer after serial source fabrication discovered

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On Tuesday, Cape Cod Times publisher Peter Meyer and editor Paul Pronovost revealed that 31-year veteran writer Karen Jeffrey had fabricated at least 69 sources in 34 stories and was no longer working for the Massachusetts newspaper.

In an apology to readers, Meyer and Provonost say they first became aware of the issue on Nov. 12, and an audit of her work that revealed the fabricated sources goes back to 1998, when the newspaper began keeping electronic archives. Prior to 1998, they used paper records to spot-check Jeffrey’s work and did not find any questionable sources.

As for how this was allowed to happen, they write:

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.

Corrections and verification expert Craig Silverman noted on Poynter that there were many things the Cape Cod Times did right in its handling of the issue. They accepted responsibility, shared details of the offenses and investigation, explained what has happened so far and what is to come and the action being taken to prevent other cases such as this.

Silverman does, however, question why it took the Times management so long to bring the investigation to readers. 

As Silverman writes, 2012 was notable for the number of cases of fabrication, with high-profile instances including Jonah Lehrer and Mike Daisey. Karen Jeffrey joins this list now, though her case stands out to Silverman, who says:

Jeffrey’s offenses stand out for their frequency, and for the length of time she got away with it. Fabrication is always scandalous, but it’s all the more outrageous when someone can get away with it for so long.

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