WNYC Staffer Resigns Following Retractions for Plagiarism
Jami Floyd, director of the the public radio station’s Race and Justice Unit, was the author of 45 stories that were removed from the web last Friday
In the latest chapter of long-running newsroom-management tensions at New York Public Radio, an editor’s note published last Friday revealed that 45 articles, all written by a single author between 2010 and 2021, had been removed from Gothamist and WNYC’s websites after they “were found to contain unattributed passages from other sources.” That author, according to two sources familiar with the situation, was WNYC reporter and editor Jami Floyd, who resigned Monday from her position as the director of WNYC’s Race and Justice Unit. A tweet issued on Floyd’s behalf by the public relations firm Reputations in Crisis! said Floyd had quit “to explore several major opportunities” and “is free to speak out” at a public press conference planned on Tuesday in front of a federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan. “Floyd will highlight major allegations she experienced herself during her recent employment at WNYC that others have been too afraid to go public with,” read the statement.
Allegations of plagiarism by Floyd were first reported by The New York Times last November after four stories were retracted and replaced by editor’s notes reading, “We have decided to retract this article and are investigating the editing process that led to this mistake.” Last month, following inquiries by the Columbia Journalism Review, three other articles bearing Floyd’s byline (or co-byline, in one case) were also retracted. But a source familiar with the situation told The Fine Print that additional articles had been discovered soon after The Times story was published.
Representatives of WNYC and Floyd declined to comment.
According to the source, the first articles were initially discovered by an editor reviewing an article Floyd had written. While using Wikipedia to verify some statistics in the piece, the editor found that whole paragraphs of an entry had been copy-pasted into the article. When other stories by Floyd were run through a plagiarism checking service, other instances of text copied from Wikipedia were discovered.
In September, the issue was reported to Andrew Golis, chief content officer of WNYC, and Audrey Cooper, editor-in-chief of WNYC, which acquired Gothamist in 2018. But the articles were not retracted until the end of October, shortly before The Times story was published. Floyd, who had been the senior editor of the Race and Justice Unit, was reassigned as the unit’s “director,” according to CJR. After she expressed “contrition,” said a source familiar with the situation, she was relieved of writing and editing responsibilities, though she continued to contribute to WNYC as a legal analyst through at least January of this year.
In a statement published on ReputationDoctor.com in late November, headlined “The New York Times Wrote A Hit Piece About Veteran Journalist, Jami Floyd,” Floyd said that the Times article was “inaccurate and damaging to my reputation.” She added, “This story arises in the context of a cancel culture in which people who disagree with a colleague will use social and traditional media to destroy that person’s work and career.”
According to a source at WNYC, following The Times report, the newsroom was not satisfied with the response and felt that WNYC management had retaliated against staff who had raised the issue. Out of frustration, this source said, a WNYC staffer began checking Floyd’s other work with plagiarism tools and, in short order, found about 15 other instances.
WNYC management subsequently launched an investigation with an “independent auditor,” which resulted in last Friday’s announcement that 45 stories had been taken down. Still, the station did not identify the author either publicly or internally. According to the Internet Archive, the original version of the editor’s note posted to Gothamist did not specify that a single author had written the articles or that they had been published from 2010 to 2021, and this information was added later.
A source familiar with the situation said that the retractions announced on Friday resulted from a second review of Floyd’s work that began this spring, which the source estimated found that 25 percent of Floyd’s work for WNYC and Gothamist contained misattributed words or phrases. “The first review didn’t go back far enough,” this source noted.
The revelations come after a disorderly stretch for WNYC. Cooper, who was the editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, has been viewed by some in the newsroom as a dominating, divisive presence since Golis, who joined in 2019, hired her to run the combined WNYC-Gothamist editorial operations in 2020.
In February 2021, Cooper fired longtime WNYC reporter Fred Mogul after Mogul filed a story that included copy from an Associated Press wire service article, though Mogul said he included a credit line at the bottom of his draft that A.P. reporting had been included. According to the CJR report, members of the newsroom were alarmed that Mogul had been fired for what they viewed as a relatively minor offense. And they pointed to the contrast of the handling of Floyd, who retained her employment at WNYC after more numerous instances of plagiarism. Mogul, who was part of the New York Public Radio Union, sued Cooper and WNYC for defamation and wrongful termination in June 2021.
Shortly after Mogul’s dismissal, WNYC laid off fourteen other employees in April 2021, citing financial distress related to the pandemic, including the shop steward for the SAG-AFTRA-affiliated New York Public Radio Union, which encompasses WNYC and Gothamist, and Gothamist’s editor-in-chief, leaving control over the site to Cooper. Mogul’s case was remanded to state court in mid-March, and a related suit brought by the union — alleging that management had surveilled and attempted to undermine union activity — was settled in February, resulting in a host of new benefits for unionized employees of WNYC.
But Floyd’s situation was left largely unresolved until Monday, and according to one source, the matter had significantly worsened relations between newsroom members and management at WNYC, leading some to believe that Cooper had helped to cover up a significant plagiarism problem while behaving in a hostile manner to other employees.
“I remember feeling personally pissed off that this was being glossed over,” said a source. “We’re kind of a public trust. We take money from grandmothers. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
The incident has added to the steady stream of complaints about Cooper’s management as WNYC editor-in-chief. “The very specific thing I’m taking about is: having your boss shit talk her subordinates to other subordinates. Completely unprompted. Something WNYC’s EIC did since day one,” tweeted Rebeca Ibarra, a former WNYC employee who left in October 2021. “We brought the issue up in person with H.R. and the CEO, because it was making people feel bad. I vividly recall saying: Could you ask Audrey to please stop bad-talking our colleagues?”