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Houston Chronicle retracts eight stories with sources allegedly made-up by high-profile reporter

A misinformation newsstand is seen in midtown Manhattan on October 30, 2018, aiming to educate news consumers about the dangers of disinformation, or fake news, in the lead-up to the US midterm elections. The first-of-its-kind newsstand was set up by the Columbia Journalism Review. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Houston Chronicle has decided to retract eight bogus stories written by a former reporter. The decision came after an internal investigation found that the reporter apparently made up sources and quoted them in his stories.

What was the reason?

“The relationship between a newspaper and its readers is one of trust,” Chronicle executive editor Nancy Barnes wrote Thursday in statement that explained the decision. “This investigation points to an egregious breach of that trust that is an offense to readers and journalists alike. We apologize to our readers, and to the Houston community.”

She added: “We will be correcting or retracting all of the affected stories in order to set the record straight to the best of our ability, as I promised when this was first brought to my attention.”

The scandal first emerged in September when another reporter questioned some of the sources cited by Austin bureau chief Mike Ward. Barnes confronted Ward and he resigned form the paper.

Ward, who previously wrote for the Austin American-Statesman, did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The Houston Chronicle decided to audit Ward's stories and brought in Pulitzer Prize winner David Wood to lead the investigation. It found that numerous people in Ward's stories could not be verified.

“Of the 275 people quoted, 122, or 44 percent, could not be found. Those 122 people appeared in 72 stories,” Wood said. “It’s impossible to prove that these people do not exist, only that with extensive research and digging, the team could not find them. And in this age of online records, including property ownership and court filings, almost everyone can be found quickly.”

Anything else?

In addition to the eight retractions, the paper also plans to amend other stories by Ward that relied heavily on sources that could not be verified.

"These are challenging times for our country, and for journalism," Barnes wrote. "That makes it all the more important that readers trust that we will ferret out the truth, even if it concerns ourselves."

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