Even so, Vermont freelancer Joe Milliken managed to plumb new depths. After he was accused of covering a sports event he never attended, lifting quotes and details from other accounts to fill in the gaps, he tried to clear his name on Poynter. Yet the evidence clearly showed that Milliken not only used another reporter’s quotes without attribution, he also altered them—making him both a plagiarist and a fabricator. Next time, Milliken, quit while you’re behind.
DART for foul balls: ESPN What is going on in Bristol, CT? As rival Deadspin gleefully reported, ESPN made some big, weird mistakes this year, with ESPN.com senior editor Lynn Hoppes at the center of all of them.
First, he hired Sarah Phillips to freelance for the site, apparently without a reference check. Turns out she’s a scam artist. ESPN terminated its relationship with her in the spring.
Then Deadspin caught Hoppes lifting content from Wikipedia (typos and all) and press releases. At the time, ESPN called this “journalistic laziness” that “fell short of our editorial standards,” although ESPN’s ombudsman did not see fit to mention this on its blog, and ESPN.com did nothing to change or update Hoppes’s posts until a college student asked VP/executive editor John Walsh about the matter in December. Walsh responded that Deadspin’s John Koblin harbored a grudge against Hoppes for stealing his girlfriend, which came as a surprise to Koblin, to his boyfriend, and to those who expect more of Walsh. (Walsh told Deadspin he never mentioned Koblin’s name and merely said he’d heard a rumor that there was a “romantic rivalry,” but several students present at the time maintain that Walsh mentioned Koblin by name.) Only after lots of unfortunate publicity did ESPN update Hoppes’s posts, deleting 12 outright and amending three others.
LAUREL for being immune to Internet hysteria: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald When Hagerty, the Herald’s octogenarian food critic, reviewed Grand Forks’s newly opened Olive Garden in March, she wasn’t expecting to become the Internet’s favorite foodie. As her son James recounted in The Wall Street Journal, when he broke the news that she had gone viral, she replied, “Could you tell me what viral means?” After more than 60 years in journalism, Hagerty paid no attention to the social media maelstrom. “I’m working on my Sunday column and I’m going to play bridge this afternoon,” she explained, “so I don’t have time to read all this crap.”
DART for the most imaginary friends: Karen Jeffrey, Cape Cod Times In December, her editors at the Cape Cod Times announced solemnly that they “have been unable to find 69 people in 34 stories since 1998, when we began archiving stories electronically.” Jeffrey, an employee since 1981, “no longer works for the Cape Cod Times.”
DART for forgetting what “real-time” means: NBC NBC was so thrilled about teaming up with Twitter for the London Olympics in August, that it didn’t stop to think that maybe it wasn’t the best plan to promote the games on the ultimate instant-gratification platform while choosing to maximize ad dollars by delaying broadcast of the most popular events until prime time. Tired of having the results spoiled for events they couldn’t watch for several hours yet, Americans used Twitter to air unsportsmanlike opinions about the network.
DART for callowness: Vice magazine After crowing about its access to on-the-lam software pioneer John McAfee (“We are with John McAfee Right Now, Suckers”) and inadvertently exposing the accused murderer’s Guatemalan hideout via the metadata in its photos, Vice then attempted to backpedal—but the damage to its own reputation was done (and McAfee was arrested).
DART for systemic poor judgment: Britain’s waning media empire It was another annus horribilis for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, accused in the Fleet Street phone-hacking scandal, and various personnel at the BBC (including George Entwistle and new New York Times CEO Mark Thompson), who got caught up in the Jimmy Savile row. To top off the UK’s display of journalistic prowess, the 2,000-page Leveson Inquiry into media ethics included verbatim passages from Wikipedia, one of which erroneously credited a 25-year-old Californian, Brett Straub, with cofounding The Independent. (His friends added him to the entry as a prank.) Whoops!