WNYC Retracts Four Articles on Its News Site, Gothamist
Gothamist, the news site of the New York public radio station WNYC, deleted four articles in the last week of October, replacing each one with an editor’s note.
“After publishing this story, WNYC found it contained unattributed words or phrases,” each note said. “We have decided to retract this article and are investigating the editing process that led to this mistake.”
The articles, published between March and September, were written by Jami Floyd, a lawyer and former local host of the National Public Radio news program “All Things Considered” who was also a senior editor of WNYC’s race and justice unit.
The retracted articles, which are available on the Internet Archive and carry Ms. Floyd’s byline, used language from Wikipedia entries and articles in Salon and The New York Times without credit, according to a comparison of the pieces and the original sources.
In a statement this week, Ms. Floyd acknowledged “mistakes,” saying they were “never intentional or designed to deceive anyone.”
“My fellow journalists work hard to express themselves and I would never want to borrow another author’s work, even inadvertently,” she continued. “To the extent that I have done so, I am deeply sorry.”
In a Zoom videoconference of WNYC employees last week, a recording of which was shared with The Times, Audrey Cooper, the station’s editor in chief, said that the retracted articles “did not meet our editorial standards.”
Ms. Cooper added that there had been “serious consequences” for the lapse, but did not elaborate or identify the author of the articles, according to three people who were present for the meeting.
During the same Zoom meeting, Ms. Cooper announced that she was reassigning Ms. Floyd. Instead of editing and writing, she would recruit employees, mentor staff members and lead events, among other duties.
The retractions echoed an episode at WNYC in February, when the reporter Fred Mogul was fired for using language from another news organization without proper attribution. Mr. Mogul, a health care reporter who worked at WNYC for 18 years, submitted an article to his editor at Gothamist that contained a paragraph from an article published by The Associated Press.
Mr. Mogul disputed the firing, saying he had given proper credit to The A.P. Shortly after the firing, more than 60 WNYC employees signed a letter in support of Mr. Mogul, calling the decision a “troubling precedent.” In May, he filed a lawsuit accusing WNYC and Ms. Cooper of defamation.
In the suit, Mr. Mogul said that he gave credit to The A.P. in a line at the end of his copy, in keeping with what had been a common practice at WNYC. A lawyer for Mr. Mogul declined to comment, referring an inquiry to the legal complaint. WNYC has called the lawsuit “meritless.”
The SAG-AFTRA union, which represents WNYC journalists, has also sued the station, accusing it of denying Mr. Mogul severance and refusing to arbitrate the dispute.
In a staff meeting that took place shortly after he was fired, Ms. Cooper told employees that WNYC had a “zero-tolerance policy” against using unattributed language from other news outlets, according to a recording of the meeting that was shared with The Times.
During last week’s Zoom videoconference, one employee asked Ms. Cooper if WNYC no longer had a zero-tolerance policy against using language from work by other news outlets. A second person asked the editor to explain the difference between the latest instance of a reporter borrowing text and Mr. Mogul’s case. Ms. Cooper defended how the station had approached both cases, saying it had made its decisions on how to handle them after careful consideration.
In an interview for this article, Ms. Cooper said, “These cases were handled differently because they are extremely different cases.”
WNYC, which has more than a million weekly listeners for its AM and FM stations, has gone through significant staff turnover in the last year. Fourteen journalists have resigned or been terminated from a staff of more than 150 editorial employees. In April, the station laid off four people who worked in the newsroom.
SAG-AFTRA filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing WNYC of retaliating against a shop steward who was among the employees laid off. A spokeswoman for the station said that WNYC “never has and never will make a personnel decision based on retaliation.”
Workplace morale has been low, said a dozen current and former staff members, most of whom spoke for this article on condition of anonymity to discuss internal issues.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Jim O’Grady, a reporter who left WNYC last month after 11 years, said in an interview. “But I felt like I had to, because for the most part it’s no longer a place of collaboration, collegiality and mutual respect.”
When Ms. Cooper started at WNYC in 2020, after five years as the editor in chief of The San Francisco Chronicle, she stepped into a volatile workplace. The station was still reeling from a period in 2017 internally referred to as “The Troubles,” when the veteran hosts Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz were fired for violating workplace conduct standards, and another longtime host, John Hockenberry, was accused of sexual harassment months after his retirement.
Goli Sheikholeslami, WNYC’s chief executive, said in an interview that the recent turnover resulted from a “necessary but also very exciting transformation” as the station tries to broaden its audience and make WNYC more of a “multi-platform” outlet.
When there are changes, Ms. Cooper said, “Some people are going to be psyched, some people are going to wait and see, and some people are going to be scared.”