Crisis for journalism |

Crisis for journalism

Don Rogers

A cautionary tale for journalism has played out with revelations that one of USA Today’s star reporters, writer of stories too amazing to be true, turned out to be indeed penning whoppers.

Jack Kelley lifted quotes from other papers without acknowledgement, made up sources, made up quotes, made up parts of stories, made up stories whole.

The career USA Today reporter – nominated for newspapering’s highest award, the Pulitzer, five times – was a big fake, as it turned out.

Most appalling is how long he might have gotten away with it. He worked for the paper for over 20 years. While an investigation into his work focused on the past few years, the implication of long-term lapses in oversight is inescapable.

Jason Blair, that infamous young New York Times reporter whose sins took down the managing editor and executive paper of America’s most august paper, was but a blip compared to this fellow.

Journalism is a kind of anti-profession, in that state-sanctioned certification would ruin the whole concept of a free press. But on the other hand, anyone – anyone – can write and call himself a “journalist.”

USA Today is America’s largest newspaper. For all their expertise and rules and all that, one of their “best” reporters turned out to be perhaps the very worst.

For all the dings the press takes for bias, exaggeration, outright mistakes – that people still watch the news, read newspapers and go to mainly newspaper sites on the Web is a testament to the trust that the public ultimately still has in its journalists.

Now Kelley is exposed as no more reliable than any kooky blogger. It’s one thing to get it wrong, quite another to be making it all up. D.R.

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