A report released this week by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting faults the KUNM Albuquerque public radio station for not disclosing its plagiarism problems to the public when they happened.
CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan wrote the report after SFR sent him an internal KUNM email last month. The email, written in February by KUNM reporter Tristan Ahtone, detailed three examples how a KUNM reporter took material from other sources and presented it as her own in 2013. Ahtone left the station in March after what he says were multiple attempts raising concerns to his superiors about the plagiarism problems.
Kaplan's report adds that two of the stories in question also ran in KUNM partner Fronteras Desk and New Mexico In Depth. Ahtone tells Kaplan that he was disappointed with the newsroom's unwillingness to discuss the incidents. Instead, the newsroom required its staff to attend five hours of ethics training at the beginning of the year. Ahtone refused to attend.
"Everybody needs ethics training," Ahtone says in the CPB report, "but I wanted someone to discuss what was going on."
Last week, SFR ran a story on the controversy. KUNM responded by stating that it dealt with the problem immediately when it was brought to their attention in November 2013.
"We reacted as any newsroom concerned about ethical behavior would," KUNM News Director Elaine Baumgartel wrote in a statement last week. "We put a hold on projects until expectations were clear. We scoured content for plagiarized material. We made corrections and added attribution where it was needed."
Baumgartel wrote that the station took personnel actions against the reporter in question, but that the station couldn't go into detail about them because it is bound by University of New Mexico guidelines that keep personnel matters confidential. (KUNM is operated by the university.)
Kaplan writes that it "pains" him to see a newsroom "hide behind the idea that it cannot discuss anything it did because of university policies that protect the confidentiality of employees and personnel issues." He also points out that while KUNM says it took care of the problem, the plagiarism issues weren't revealed to the public until another media outlet (i.e. SFR) wrote about them.
"The credibility of a news organization rests on its ability to be transparent and own up to its mistakes," he writes. "It should not have to wait for outside forces to disclose first."