Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Canned Columnist Claims to Be Clean

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Canned Columnist Claims to Be Clean

Article excerpt

And The Arizona Republic ex-writer's out to prove it

Fired Arizona Republic columnist Julie Amparano says she will prove that she didn't make up sources, as her former editors claim. Amparano vows to track down and produce those sources that have been disputed by her former employers.

Amparano, the 39-year-old writer who lost her job Aug. 20 after failing to produce at least a score of sources named in columns, also challenged other reporters at the Republic to track down and prove the existence of sources within 24 hours.

"I want to try to call attention to this horrible double standard," says Amparano. "It's been a really unfair process, and I haven't been given a chance to prove anything."

Amparano was fired after editors conducted a detailed review of her work two weeks ago that included hiring a private investigator to track down people quoted in her stories. In the end, they claim enough holes were found in her columns to indicate at least some of the sources named were fake. She was let go after more than five years with the paper, but after only one month writing the thrice-weekly column.

"It was a difficult step to take," says Pam Johnson, the Republic's executive editor and vice president for news. "But it was an enormous journalistic sin."

Stephen Montoya, Amparano's attorney, says she most likely will file a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper. "We are considering whether they were reckless," says Montoya.

The Republic first announced Amparano's firing in a short statement printed in the paper's Aug. 21 issue, which also included an apology to readers.

This was followed by an Aug. 24 Page One story, which detailed the investigation into all the columns Amparano had written since taking the columnist position in mid-July.

The review began after some co-workers speculated that Amparano might have made up sources' names. A red flag was raised when a "Jennifer Morgan" appeared in two columns with different occupations listed. The review showed that the same name was mentioned in two other stories Amparano had written in the past, which listed her with still other occupations.

"We reviewed 11 of the 17 columns she had written since the column began, focusing on those that included sources that were not well- known," Johnson says. "In those columns, we identified 65 total sources, including 40 that needed some checking because we did not know who they were."

Johnson says, in the end, 20 sources could not be found or substantiated.

"Then we turned over 15 names to a private investigator, and he found that 11 could not be traced," Johnson says. …

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