NYPR union pushes for transparency in wake of plagiarism findings

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Screenshot from video

Jami Floyd speaks Tuesday at a press conference in Manhattan.

Union stewards at New York Public Radio have called on the organization’s interim CEO to disclose findings from an internal plagiarism investigation and to allow a station journalist to investigate management’s handling of the violations.

In a letter Wednesday to Interim CEO Cynthia King Vance, stewards with NYPR’s Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union expressed “alarm” over the station’s response to discoveries of plagiarism in its newsroom. In an editor’s note posted Friday, the station said it had removed 41 articles from WNYC.org and four articles from Gothamist.com that had violated editorial standards. 

“Forty-two of the stories that were removed were found to contain unattributed passages from other sources,” the note said. “The other three stories were published on other websites by the author.”

Citing documents and anonymous sources, the New York Post and the Columbia Journalism Review reported this week that Jami Floyd, senior editor of WNYC’s Race and Justice Unit, had authored all 45 articles. Floyd joined WNYC in 2015 as an evening and weekend host, becoming the host of the station’s All Things Considered later that year. She took on her role of senior editor in 2020 and has also served as legal editor.

Previous articles by Floyd had been removed from NYPR websites over similar concerns. In November, the New York Times reported that Gothamist had taken down four articles by Floyd and replaced them with an editor’s note that said they had “contained unattributed words or phrases.”

In a November Zoom meeting with WNYC staffers, NYPR Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper condemned the plagiarism but did not name the author, the Times reported. She also said she would reassign Floyd to mentoring duties, according to the Times. In a rebuttal posted on the website The Reputation Doctor, Floyd denied that Cooper had reassigned her.

CJR later found five more articles on WNYC’s website with Floyd’s byline that the publication said contained “strikingly similar wording to specific articles from SCOTUSBlog, Constitution Blog, Business Insider, the Times, and more.” The station retracted two of those articles, according to CJR

After that story was published, Cooper held a meeting with staffers March 2, including Floyd.

“I wanted you all to know that yesterday I made a decision to take down some additional articles that were on our websites because they appeared to have borrowed sentences and phrases from other media outlets and other sources,” Cooper said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Current. “… Those stories are very old, so there’s a lot more questions and investigations I have to go into and how it came to be like that in the first place.” Cooper said the organization was likely to make a bigger announcement after the investigation was completed. 

Floyd said she had written the articles flagged by CJR. “These are my stories that are coming now, or at least I’ve been told they’re my stories. I haven’t seen them yet, but I will look at them,” Floyd said. “Nobody is perfect. I’ve made mistakes in my past. This is my worst mistake ever. But I challenge anyone to get to the age of 40 without having made some mistakes in their professional or personal life.”

The retractions announced Friday occurred “around six months after concerns about plagiarism were originally brought to [CCO] Andrew Golis and Audrey Cooper’s attention,” the stewards said. “Therefore, we are asking that NYPR allow one of its journalists, perhaps from On the Media, to investigate management’s handling of plagiarism in the WNYC and Gothamist newsroom … . This person should be free to report without fear of interference from management.”

Several instances of plagiarism were first found on the website in the fall and senior leadership was alerted, the union letter said, but the stories remained online for weeks until the union’s attorney again pointed them out to management. The articles were then “removed within an hour,” according to the letter.

The union demanded that NYPR explain its plagiarism policy and the editorial reasoning behind it. A February settlement of an unfair labor practice claim between NYPR and SAG-AFTRA requires the company to clarify “policies and procedures around plagiarism, including the disciplinary procedures,” the union said in its letter. 

Union stewards also asked the organization to release the findings of the plagiarism investigation internally and to the public. In a Zoom meeting Monday that included Cooper, Chief Human Resources Officer Monique Jefferson and NYPR employees, staff and leadership argued about why the company would not publicly disclose the author of the 45 articles, according to audio obtained by Current. The company had decided to treat the situation as a confidential personnel matter, Cooper said. 

“You’re protecting the person who plagiarized, you’re protecting yourselves, and in doing so you’re directly choosing to not protect the people in this newsroom,” an employee said during the meeting.

During the meeting, Cooper expressed surprise that Floyd had resigned that day. In a statement Tuesday, Floyd said she plans to sue NYPR for “gender discrimination, age discrimination, retaliatory workplace harassment, defamation, and violation of my civil rights.” 

A spokesperson for Floyd said NYPR would not allow her to see the 45 articles that are part of the investigation. An NYPR spokesperson denied that statement.

“In addition to the four articles found in the fall, the person who was the subject of the investigation was shown 7 examples of unattributed words and phrases and was told, before their resignation, that the full findings of the investigation would be presented this week,” the spokesperson said in an email. “This person admitted to NYPR that the examples were clearly unacceptable under our editorial policies.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that union stewards said the retractions announced Friday stemmed from previous findings of plagiarism. The stewards only said that the retractions “occurred around six months after concerns about plagiarism were originally brought to Andrew Golis and Audrey Cooper’s attention.”

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