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Fake news? Houston Chronicle investigating reporter who may have made up sources and quotes

The Houston Chronicle is investigating a former reporter who may have been making up sources. "We owe our readers the truth and to tell you if, in fact, there were inaccuracies in anything we published," the executive editor wrote in a statement. (Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

Mainstream media outlets often take serious offense to questions about the honesty and accuracy of their reporting, particularly when they come from the president of the United States. The Houston Chronicle, however, is now having to answer those questions for itself.

The Texas newspaper has launched an investigation into a veteran and well-known state reporter who may have been making up quotes from people who don't exist, according to The Hill.

Executive editor Nancy Barnes announced the investigation, acknowledging that the only way forward is to be transparent about the situation.

"As a journalism organization, we owe the public more," Barnes wrote in the statement. "We owe our readers the truth and to tell you if, in fact, there were inaccuracies in anything we published. We simply do not know the full story yet."

What's going on?

A Houston Chronicle reporter recently brought to Barnes' attention concerns about a story written by Mike Ward, the paper's Austin reporter who previously wrote for the Austin American-Statesman.

The question wasn't about the facts of the story, however; the reporter wasn't sure if the story was quoting real people. Further investigation by the Chronicle's researchers revealed that they couldn't track down many of the sources Ward used in his stories.

Ward didn't admit to any wrongdoing, insisting that his stories were truthful and accurate -- but he resigned anyway.

"...given the questions this review raised, he offered to resign and I accepted that resignation last week," Barnes wrote.

How will they sort it out?

Even with Ward gone, the paper has to figure out this issue if it is to maintain the trust of its audience, so it has hired an independent, "highly respected" unnamed journalist to investigate Ward's work in great detail.

Barnes knows that in the era of fake news, transgressions like Ward's can ruin credibility.

"In these challenging times for our country, with journalism and journalists often under attack, trust between a newspaper and its readers is absolutely essential," Barnes wrote.

The Houston Chronicle was one of numerous news outlets that joined the Boston Globe's coordinated condemnation of President Donald Trump's alleged "dirty war against the free press" last month.

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