Letter to our members: Chapter conducts independent review into Paresh Jha’s contest entries

June 29, 2012

Dear Connecticut SPJ members:

As current officers representing the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, we are writing to inform you of recent actions taken concerning possible fabrications in entries to the 2011 Excellence in Journalism contest.

As you may know, former New Canaan News reporter Paresh Jha was dismissed from his job. The action followed the discovery that he had fabricated sources and quotes in published reports.

Upon learning of these developments, the Connecticut SPJ Board of Directors realized that Jha was recently selected for two awards in the 2011 Excellence in Journalism contest sponsored by the chapter. Jha won a third place award for feature writing and a first place award for in-depth reporting.

We immediately contacted Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, owner of the New Canaan News, asking if any portion of these award-winning entries were fabricated. David McCumber, editorial director for Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, who responded within half an hour, said that their investigation verified facts and sources in the feature story. Their investigation, however, found fabrications in one of the three stories in the series. Meanwhile, the Connecticut SPJ board began deliberations on whether to rescind the award(s) and/or to conduct our own independent investigation of the entries.

On Thursday, June 28, the board voted 10-1, with one member not voting, to conduct an independent investigation of these entries.

Today, the board further voted 10-1, with one member not voting, to authorize Roy S. Gutterman, a media lawyer and Syracuse professor, to conduct the independent investigation. Gutterman, a member of SPJ, is authorized to contact any individuals or organizations necessary to complete the investigation and make recommendations to the board on possible actions on the awards.

We expect the investigation to be completed and a report completed by July 31. After that, we will consider whether to act on the awards.

Connecticut SPJ is dedicated to preserving the integrity of our long-time contest, and to ensuring the continued confidence of journalists in our future contests.

We condemn all unethical practices and continue to applaud all media organizations for their swift action on ridding the industry of any violators.

Over the past year, we have been increasingly dismayed to see the on-going lapse in good journalistic practices. This is the third journalist to lose their job in the state over plagiarism or fabrication. (See Middletown Press and Fairfield Minuteman.)

We are so concerned about these matters that we are considering professional programs on this topic. Your input on this matter, changes to our contest and any other SPJ- or journalism-related matter is valued by the Connecticut SPJ board.

Please take time to give your feedback on these issues. You may email us at contest@ctspj.org.

We will inform you of any future action taken on this matter. We hope see you at a future program.

Please check the chapter website at ctspj.org for updates on all future programming and news.

Cindy Simoneau, president
Don Stacom, vice president
Jamie DeLoma, vice president/communications
Jodie Mozdzer, treasurer (and president-elect)
Cara Baruzzi, secretary
Jerry Dunklee, past president

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