The New Canaan News fired reporter Paresh Jha last month after he admitted to fabricating names and quotes. The Hearst-owned newspaper discovered that 25 stories written by Jha over an 18-month period contained quotes from nonexistent sources.
Two of Jha’s stories won awards in the 2011 Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists writing contest. He received a first place in-depth reporting award for in-depth reporting for “Enabling underage partying,” and a third place feature writing award for “Teachers, students weigh in on Twain Controversy.”
After Jha’s fabrications were discovered, the Connecticut SPJ assigned Roy Gutterman of Syracuse’s Newhouse School to investigate Jha’s winning entries.
The journalism professor, whose findings were released this morning, reports:
Three teachers who were quoted in the Twain controversy story expressed concerns over how they were quoted in the piece and two of the sources “were incredulous that this article won an award.” One of them — a student newspaper adviser and journalism teacher — told Gutterman that he uses Jha’s third-place story as an example of “poor journalism” in his class.
Gutterman advises that the award for the first-place underage drinking series be retracted because it has quotes from two people who don’t exist.
“The award for the Twain story is a closer call,” the SPJ investigator writes. “All the sources in the story indeed exist and they confirmed that they were interviewed. However, the names for two were misspelled, 20 three sources expressed concerns with how they were quoted, two sentences bear a similarity to a previously published news story and one referenced article cannot be located.”
Gutterman had a brief phone conversation with Jha last week and the disgraced journalist “openly admitted his fabrications to as many as 25 stories, including one of the award-winning pieces,” writes the j-prof. “He called his actions ‘wrong,’ ‘regrettable’ and ‘misguided.’”
Jha told Gutterman:
What I did was terrible. It was misguided and wrong and I had to own up to it and I lost my job because of it. I totally understand the severity of the situation and I’m willing to forfeit the awards and do whatever is necessary to keep the integrity of the Connecticut SPJ intact.