I had two thoughts when I read about Madison Roberts, the freshman journalism major at Alabama who fabricated 30 sources in stories for the Crimson White.
My first thought was that I don’t feel sorry for her at all.
And the second was that I do.
I don’t feel sorry for Madison because I was overwhelmed as a freshman journalist, too. And a sophomore, junior, and senior journalist, and a working journalist. I’ve been a student journalist while washing dishes in a cafeteria, taking a full load of classes, and showing up every day for a reporting internship. I’ve been a student journalist while working a full-time job.
I’ve never once fabricated a source, a story, or a quote.
And I know lots and lots of talented student journalists who were, probably, more stressed than me and more stressed than Madison. They haven’t either.
But I do feel sorry for her. I can’t help it.
Because her career is over. (As it should be, sure. I’ve spoken before about the way student journalists’ inevitable mistakes haunt them in the digital age, and this isn’t the same thing. Fabricating 30 sources isn’t a mistake.)
But Madison Roberts had the chance to study journalism, to write for one of the best college papers in the country, and to live in the midst and middle of one of the most ridiculous, brain-spinning, life-enhancing, something-new-every-day professions in the world.
And she missed it. She threw it away.
So I feel sorry for her, too.