Hey biz media, give credit where it’s due
by Liz Hester
The New York Times published a front-page piece on Aug. 13 about credit cards and robo-signing.
Banks got in trouble for improper reviews of foreclosure documents and now it seems that practice extended beyond the mortgage area at some firms. The article by Jessica Silver-Greenberg alleges that companies like American Express and Discover are using false documents, generic testimony and incomplete records to collect debt from delinquent cardholders.
The story cites “interviews with dozens of state judges, regulators and lawyers” saying flaws in credit card records are become more prevalent and that some judges are finding witnesses giving similar testimony in different cases. It includes an interview with Noach Dear, a civil court judge in Brooklyn, saying that about 90 percent of the cases are flawed and can’t prove how much money people actually owe.
What the story doesn’t include is any mention of Jeff Horwitz’s American Banker series about this topic, the first of which ran in January. Horwitz focused his first story on a JPMorgan Chase unit, which stopped collecting certain types of debt. (His stories can be found here, here, here, here and here. They’re all outside the American Banker paywall.)
In the next piece Horwitz looked at a case, which Dear threw out and said had evidence of “robo-testimony” or the same person giving similar testimony in various cases, that wound up in Dear’s courtroom. He points out the case could be a fluke, or could point to early warning signs of robo-signing in other areas. That article talks about “a growing number of judges, state attorneys general, federal agencies, consumer attorneys and academics are concluding that banks may be susceptible to similar claims in other areas of consumer lending, including the credit card market.”
It’s clear that Horwitz was first to the story and deserves credit for his work. Combing through court papers, he found the original JPMorgan Chase case and then continued to follow up on the story in several articles. The Times did add information advancing the story and deserves credit for that, but so does the American Banker for running the first story on the topic.
Obviously, journalism is competitive. Being first on a big story sells papers, gets clicks and causes people to tune in. It also elevates the publication and helps establish both journalist and outlet as part of the conversation. But the courtesy and transparency of letting those readers or viewers know the original source of the information should be upheld. It’s respectful to credit the work of other journalists and gives consumers a way to trace stories back to their original source.
With the rise of bloggers and commentators, being able to find the origin of information becomes even more critical. It helps consumers evaluate for themselves the truth as well as the reporting backing up the story. As more people enter the conversation, being able to talk about the beginning and view original sources makes sure other reporters and consumers can properly evaluate the information.
This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last where a news organization doesn’t credit another outlet with information, but it should be held responsible for the oversight.
Other blogs and news outlets cited Horwitz’s work by name, giving credit where it’s due, shouldn’t others uphold that standard of transparency?