An update on The Daily Texan’s verification process

Catherine Marfin

Last month, the Texan staff was contacted by a spokesperson from the city of Austin with concerns about an article that quoted two city of Austin officials. Both of the city officials told our staff that they had never given an interview to the reporter who wrote it, senior news reporter Sara Johnson.   

An internal investigation by our staff into those allegations determined that the quotes were fabricated. We let the reporter go and retracted the two articles, which we confirmed contained fabricated quotes. 

After publishing my initial statement regarding the issue, myself and the Texan staff began the process of verifying the sources in all of Johnson’s published articles. Aside from the two articles we’ve already retracted, Johnson had 37 articles published between February and November 2019, for a total of about 110 quoted sources. 

Our staff has worked diligently over the last two weeks to contact each of these individuals. In standing by our goal of transparency in our reporting, I’m writing to update our readers on the results of this verification process.

The Texan did not hear back from every source. But of the roughly 60 people who have responded to our inquiries as of this writing, fabricated quotes were attributed to at least 30 people across 18 different articles. 

The majority of the fabricated quotes were attributed to UT students, but were also attributed to five UT professors and staff members, an official from Austin’s Housing Department and one U.S. senator. 

As a result of this process, the following articles have been retracted in print and online: 

Sept. 13, 2019: “Former Madam Mam’s renovated into a bank”

Sept.. 16, 2019: “El Patio reopening late September”

Sept. 17, 2019: “CapMetro introduces Pickup system to extend public transit”

Sept. 23, 2019: “Salvation Pizza closes doors to its original location off Guadalupe Street”

Sept. 24, 2019: “UHS gives flu shots to UT community”

Sept. 30, 2019: “Mayor Adler, Sen. Merkley speak at anti-gun violence rally hosted by University Democrats”

Oct. 1, 2019: “Mediterranean restaurant MezzeMe opens location on The Drag”

Oct. 3, 2019: “West Campus apartments prepare for increase in overnight ACL guests”

Oct. 7, 2019: “Mongolian Hot Pot restaurant closes in West Campus”

Oct. 9, 2019: “CapMetro planning to release proposal to make routes more safe, accessible”

Oct. 17, 2019: “African food truck diversifies food scene in West Campus”

Oct. 21, 2019: “Beauty salon to open in Dobie Mall in 2020”

Oct. 22, 2019: “Potential Austin Land Development Code revision includes new sidewalk installment rules”

Oct. 31, 2019: “UT student develops website to help students find short-term leases”

Oct. 31, 2019: “43-year-old Mediterranean cafe north of campus to close”

Nov. 5, 2019: “North Campus taqueria closing after 20 years”

Nov. 11, 2019: “Insomnia Cookies celebrates grand opening”

Nov. 11, 2019: “Steel City Pops closes on Guadalupe Street”

Our staff is deeply hurt that the verification process revealed this many instances of fabrication within Johnson’s articles. As I said in my first statement on this issue, fabricating quotes — or any information in an article — is not a reflection of our values or standards as journalists or as Texan staff members. 

On behalf of the Texan, I want to apologize to all of the individuals who fabricated quotes were attributed to. I am deeply sorry for any negative outcomes these individuals may have faced as a result of this situation. 

Catherine Marfin, Managing Editor