There were two possibilities. Either Glass had been duped by hackers at the convention or he had faked the story.
We simply couldn't believe a journalist would create a story out of whole cloth and publish it in the New Republic. The hacker angle looked more promising, except that the AOL site was suspicious: it looked amateurish, and any hacker group that could have pulled such an elegant media hack at Jukt would never skimp on glitzy tech. We decided to hold our story until we could get to the bottom of it.
Two days later, Lane fired Glass after determining that the young associate editor had fabricated "Hack Heaven." I later learned he'd fabricated many other pieces, for a number of publications. In fact, Glass had made up in whole or in part some two dozen stories for the New Republic alone, as well as articles for George, Rolling Stone, and Harper's, among others.
The New Republic fact checkers, understandably, came under a lot of heat over Glass's fabrications, but I believe the real problem is an editorial one. Forbes Digital Tool employs no fact checkers, but if Glass had filed "Hack Heaven" with one of our editors, he wouldn't have gotten far before running into serious questions: What city is Jukt Micronics based in? Is it public or private? What kind of software does the company make? Why haven't we heard of this "big-time" software firm?
This was a summer of journalism firings and resignations. In addition to Glass, two columnists at the Boston Globe, Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle, were forced to resign, and two CNN producers were fired and one resigned as a result of an unsubstantiated story on nerve gas on NewsStand: CNN & TIME. And just the other day, I debunked a New York Post reporter's story that claimed the mob was moving into high-tech scams.
There is intense pressure today on reporters to produce sexy stories. This is what sells newspapers and magazines, and attracts traffic to web-based news sites. However, I think reporters can be challenged by that pressure to produce material the public will read, without having to fabricate it. In some ways it's the kind of intellectual challenge that Reed is known for, and it translates well to the journalism profession. Which is why I see so many classmates out there pounding beats--Peter Goodman '89, a staff reporter at the Washington Post; Will Bourne '88, an editor at Fortune; Kevin Kelleher '85, who works for the San Francisco bureau of Thestreet.com; and Chris Lydgate '90 and Kurt Opprecht '85, who both earn their living as freelancers. What you won't find any of them doing is fabricating stories.
Adam Penenberg began his career in journalism as co-editor of the Quest (1985-86) with Chris Lydgate '90 and Sandeep Kaushik '89. He recently moved from the digital side to the print side of Forbes magazine in a promotion to senior editor. He will be doing features on hackers, cybercrime, and the emerging cyberculture.