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Ex-reporter faults UH paper's staff in source scandal


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POSTED: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A former news editor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's student newspaper who allegedly fabricated dozens of sources through 17 months blamed the paper's copy editors for the errors.

“;I want to be clear: I did not intentionally fabricate any of the sources in the correction listed,”; said Kris DeRego, 26, the former news editor at Ka Leo O Hawaii. “;Especially in the fall of 2008 there were a number of problems in the copy process at the time.”;

The newspaper's adviser and a former Ka Leo copy editor rejected DeRego's claim and said this wasn't the first time DeRego had been questioned about sources.

Ka Leo published a correction last Wednesday, saying 29 sources in 14 stories written by the news editor could not be verified. DeRego was the author of the 14 stories that ran between January 2008 and May 2009. The correction also said the authors of five letters to the editor could not be verified.

Three of the letters were commentaries on stories written by DeRego, the paper's commentary editor at the time. DeRego, a senior studying political science, produced about 135 stories in his 17 months at the paper. He no longer works there.

“;He's a very smart guy,”; said Jay Hartwell, the paper's editorial adviser. “;All we're asking for is verification, which is the reporter's basic responsibility.”;

Hartwell suspected something was amiss when reading a story DeRego wrote containing a quote from a student that was “;too good to be true.”; Hartwell said he could not confirm that the student was enrolled in the UH system.

That led to an investigation of all the paper's stories and letters to the editor since DeRego joined the staff. The investigation found 29 names in DeRego's stories who were not registered at the university when DeRego wrote the stories. The check also found spelling errors by other writers, which were also included in Ka Leo's correction.

Hartwell said DeRego was given a month to verify his sources.

“;Now he's blaming the copy desk,”; Hartwell said. “;No other reporter at the Ka Leo, to my knowledge, has ever complained about quotes or names being changed by our copy editors.”;

Hartwell previously spoke with DeRego about verifying sources when DeRego was commentary editor a year earlier. Some letters to the editor didn't appear to be written by students.

“;I told him as commentary editor he needed to verify who was writing letters and that they were actual people,”; Hartwell said. “;At that time, he denied writing those letters.”;

One letter whose author could not be confirmed commented on a DeRego story, saying “;it takes courage to write an article like that.”; Another unconfirmed author wrote, “;Not all of Ka Leo's readers share his (DeRego's) intelligence.”;

DeRego says the letters he received as commentary editor were authentic.

“;I didn't write any of the letters,”; DeRego said. “;However, I didn't take as good a care ... to ensure the authenticity of the authors of all the letters.”;

Former copy editor Kyle Mahoney said he was “;not entirely surprised”; that DeRego would make up sources.

“;I've never seen him interview a student,”; he said. “;I've seen other editors and reporters interview in the newsroom.”;

Mahoney said, “;The copy desk has made mistakes, but nothing of this sort.”; He added he didn't take offense at DeRego's comments.

Still, DeRego maintains his innocence.

“;I'm a little hurt by it,”; he said. “;I feel as though I've been mistreated by the current editor in chief. I feel like my concerns have been dismissed.”;