CPB ombud criticizes KUNM’s handling of plagiarism charges

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The handling of plagiarism charges at New Mexico’s KUNM-FM drew criticism from CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan, who weighed in on the issue in an April 24 report.

The charges were first made public by former KUNM reporter Tristan Ahtone, who left the Albuquerque station in March over what he cited as the station’s failure to respond to a fellow reporter’s plagiarism, as recounted in an April 15 story in the Santa Fe Reporter.

In an email to his superiors at KUNM that a Santa Fe journalist later forwarded to Kaplan, Ahtone accused KUNM leadership of hiding three instances of suspected plagiarism from listeners. One of the stories was published through the Fronteras reporting desk, which covers the Southwest.

Ahtone refused to participate in ethics training courses the station mandated for all staff, writing that the training “serves merely as the Potemkin Village to bolster this station’s attempt at credibility.”

CPB’s Kaplan also found the station’s response lacking. “KUNM should have disclosed to the public immediately when it discovered that it had a plagiarism problem,” he wrote in the report, for which he talked with all involved parties. He concluded, “The credibility of a news organization rests on its ability to be transparent and own up to its mistakes. It should not have to wait for outside forces to disclose first.”

Another staffer who resigned from the station told Kaplan that its handling of the plagiarism concerns played a role in her leaving. Lianne Adams, part-time coordinator for poverty and public health coverage, resigned in April.

Before Kaplan’s report was published, KUNM News Director Elaine Baumgartel posted a statement on the station’s website April 18 noting that “our integrity was questioned” after “an accusation of plagiarism.” Baumgartel pledged to reform KUNM policies. The station has hired a journalism professor from the University of New Mexico “to go over various ethical scenarios and appropriate responses” and is crafting a “detailed and explicit ethics guide” that it plans to make public, she said.

“Everyone in our newsroom is sorry this happened,” she wrote.

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