Newspaper retracts story over ‘unverified quotes’

The role of an internship at a news organization — any organization — is to learn the ropes, of course, and a Sioux Falls, S.D., intern may be about to learn an important lesson: Don’t make up quotes.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper reported this afternoon that it has pulled a story after a principal at a local school said she never talked to the reporter — an intern — who quoted her.

In the incident, curiously, the story was about as benign as they come: The planting of a memorial tree at a local school in memory of a special education teacher.

The retraction:

Argus Leader Media retracted a story Thursday after quotes attributed to a source could not be verified.

The story, published online Wednesday and in Thursday’s newspaper, described a memorial tree planting at Laura B. Anderson Elementary school in Sioux Falls.

Principal Jayne Zielenski, who was quoted twice in the story, said she was never contacted by anyone from the Argus Leader.

“As journalists, we take truth and accuracy very seriously. They are the foundation of our readers’ trust and fundamental to reporting the news. The intern reporter associated with this article will no longer be writing for the publication,” Argus Leader Media News Director Cory Myers said.

Argus Leader Media is reviewing 10 other stories written by the reporter, who had been with the company since May 15.

At last check, however, the story was still online

The two quotes in question:

“The students took Mrs. Larsen’s passing very hard,” Principal Jayne Zielenski said. “It only felt right to do something for her.”

… and…

“Jodi was a friend to so many here,” Zielenski said. “With all of the passion she put into teaching her students over the years, the legacy she leaves behind at this school will last for years to come.”