NPR and WQXR, the New York City classical music station owned by New York Public Radio, said today they had identified 10 stories that included material plagiarized from 17 sources. The 10 stories had been posted jointly on the NPR Music and WQXR web sites since 2011, the most recent one on April 15. In addition, unattributed phrases in another story were caught last week, as it was being edited for publication. That story was not posted at NPR.org.
NPR removed the already published stories from their original place on the NPR Music site, where they accompanied archived music or video performances, and reposted them—with attributions to the original sources—in a single, consolidated post at NPR.org. The stories were written by Brian Wise, WQXR's online editor, who resigned yesterday. In a brief statement, Wise took responsibility for what he called "unintentional lapses," and apologized.
According to a memo issued by Michael Oreskes, NPR's senior vice president for news, and Graham Parker, WQXR's general manager, a NPR copy editor working on the most recently submitted piece alerted newsroom management at NPR and WQXR after "discovering that some key phrases in the piece had previously appeared elsewhere.
The copy editor, Mark Mobley, "was checking an unusual spelling of a name and came across some material on the web with some very similar passages to what got submitted," Mark Memmott, NPR's standards and practices editor, told me.
I asked Memmott what process is in place to catch such instances. The answer, in short: NPR relies on its reporters and writers to adhere to the ethics code. "We trust people and it's right here in our code—and all newsrooms' codes, really—your work should be your own," he said.
What was unusual in this case is that NPR caught the problem itself. As Memmott noted, more often when similar issues have been discovered at other news organizations "it's usually because of complaints," either from someone whose work has been copied without credit or a sharp-eyed reader.
NPR and WQXR handled this unfortunate situation well, in my opinion. The newsrooms moved impressively quickly to address the situation after discovering the problem only last Friday, examining each of the 40 pieces by Wise that had appeared jointly on the NPR and WQXR sites. The pieces remain online, because, as a separate editor's note on the consolidated page says, "a news organization should not hide its mistakes."
The full note from Oreskes and Parker is below:
NPR Music editors have determined that phrases in 10 stories filed jointly on the NPR Music and WQXR websites were copied from other sources without attribution. They were written for NPR and WQXR by Brian Wise, the online editor at WQXR, a classical radio station owned by New York Public Radio. Effective Oct. 28, Mr. Wise resigned following the discovery of plagiarism in these stories.
An editor's note has been posted on each of the NPR Music and WQXR pages where evidence of this was uncovered. The reports that were on those pages have been collected and moved to one page, where the phrases at issue have been highlighted and links have been added to the sources where they first appeared. NPR and WQXR chose not to delete the materials, because one of our core principles is "accountability." In its Ethics Handbook, NPR states that: "We take full responsibility for our work, so we must always be ready and willing to answer for it. Just as careful attention to our sources makes a story stronger, careful listening to our public makes our journalism better. So we welcome questions or criticisms from our stakeholders and to the best of our ability, we respond."
The instances which took place were discovered last week by an NPR.org copy editor working on a piece that Mr. Wise had submitted. That piece has not been posted on NPR.org or WQXR.org. After discovering that some key phrases in the piece had previously appeared elsewhere, the editor alerted newsroom management at NPR and WQXR. A review was then begun of the other 40 pieces Mr. Wise had written jointly for NPR.org and WQXR since 2008. That review turned up the other instances between April 2011 and the unpublished piece in October 2015. WQXR is in the process of conducting a thorough examination of all of Wise's pieces written exclusively for WQXR.org. So far, WQXR has not discovered further instances of plagiarism. WQXR will update its site if it does so.
NPR's policy is clear: plagiarism is unacceptable. Likewise, New York Public Radio's policy is indisputable: "Plagiarism is an unforgivable offense. NYPR staff members do not take other people's work and present it as our own." There is nothing in journalism that is more important than the trust between a news organization and its audience. The hundreds of journalists at NPR and NYPR and across public radio devote their careers to upholding that trust every day. We apologize to our audiences and to those who had their work copied without credit.
Michael Oreskes, SVP for News, NPR
Graham Parker, General Manager, WQXR