Letter from the Editors: An apology and retraction from The State Press

It’s been an incredible week of highs and lows for The State Press.

We debuted with an online look ready to challenge ourselves to produce visually striking content that deeply impacts our community. As a team, we began working hard to get to our goals — and every day for our first publishing week — editors and writers generated creative ideas, produced dynamic pieces and began planning for an innovative editorial year.

We were riding on our first high — until we experienced our first shocking low.

On Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, our editors were contacted with a possible plagiarism case involving our Tempe beat writer Raquel Velasco. After an independent and side-by-side comparison of the two works, we had determined that the piece was in fact plagiarized.

The original, written by editorial intern Connor Radnovich for the Phoenix Business Journal titled “Tempe telling Mill Ave. musicians to turn the volume down,” matched phrasing, quotes and information to our story, “Tempe tones down volume on Mill Avenue.”

Quotes were lifted, information was outright stolen, and the sentence structure directly matched the original article. We sincerely apologize to the Phoenix Business Journal and credit Connor’s efforts for accurately reporting and writing the story. In addition, a City of Tempe press release written by Kris Baxter-Ging was also plagiarized and information was used without proper accreditation.

We felt betrayed. Raquel was a promising writer. As a senior at the Walter Cronkite School, the rigorous ethics and the constant diligence to avoid plagiarism is embedded into the education of young journalists. Yet as more research began to pile up, it turned out the Phoenix Business journal article wasn’t the only piece Raquel had plagiarized.

Our evidence shows the following articles were taken from its original authors and publications:

- From The Arizona Republic, “ASU, Tempe kick off football season with tailgating party,” published on Aug. 18, 2012, by Dianna M. Náñez. Sentences were rewritten; whole paragraphs were copied; factual information matched more than 90 percent of the original piece. In some instances, the copied quotes were stuffed with extra details from the individuals themselves — information which we believe is fabricated.

- From The Arizona Republic, “Tempe’s Madcap Theaters closes temporarily due to AC problems,” published on Aug. 16, 2012, also by Dianna M. Náñez. The beginning paragraphs were outright stolen, and once again, almost all of the quotes were taken and reworked. In addition, a press release from the Stay Cool Campaign mentioned in the story was plagiarized and not properly credited.

- From ABC15, ASU News, The Arizona Republic and The Lincoln Journal Star, Raquel used key facts, figures, quotations and phrasing from each publication to write a story about a recent rise in Tempe bike thefts. At one point in the rewritten story, a plagiarized quote misattributed two different sources.

We offer our most sincere apology to each publication and news outlet, and acknowledge that the hard work and original information belongs to each writer.

Raquel’s relationship with The State Press has been terminated. Her articles have been retracted, and The State Press will continue to investigate her previous works.

The thought in many of our editors’ minds were, “Why didn’t we catch this sooner?” In some respects, our own editors are at fault for not catching the plagiarism as soon as it hit our desks. For that, we apologize to our readers and promise to work even harder to serve our community the right and responsible way.

It will take some time for us to return to the same excitement which we first had, but we still have big plans.

Now, a bigger part of that plan is to regain the trust of our readers and the surrounding publications. Our staff hopes to rise above this incident and dedicate ourselves to take a harder look into every piece we produce.

We hope to bring a higher standard of ethics into our newsroom and continue to publish work that is both original and accurate.

Thank you for reading,

The Editorial Board


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