Northwestern reviews dean’s use of anonymous quotes

By The Associated Press

EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern University said it is reviewing the use of unnamed sources and “the veracity of quotations” in writings by the dean of the Medill School of Journalism.

John Lavine cited unnamed students in two introductory letters he wrote for the journalism school’s alumni magazine last year.

One of the quotes, attributed to a Medill junior, praised a particular advertising class, saying in part: “… I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I’ve taken.”

A student working for the university newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, wrote in a column last week he questioned all 29 students in the class. All denied saying the quote, even when promised their names would not be printed, David Spett wrote.

At Medill, a prestigious journalism school, students are instructed to be careful in using anonymous sources. Professors often require students to submit contact information for each person quoted in their articles to guard against quotes being made up.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The university released a statement Tuesday saying the school “takes such matters seriously” and the Office of the Provost is reviewing questions “raised recently regarding the use of unnamed sources and the veracity of quotations by John Lavine.”

In an e-mail to faculty and students late Wednesday, Lavine apologized for what he said was “poor judgment,” but repeated assertions that the quotes were authentic.

His decision to overhaul Medill’s curriculum – blending marketing classes with traditional reporting and writing skills – has been controversial.

He told the Chicago Tribune last week the quotes “came from real people.” But he said he can’t remember if they originated during face-to-face conversations or e-mails with students.

He also said there was a difference between writing a news story and a letter in an alumni magazine.

“Context is all-important. I wasn’t doing a news story. I wasn’t covering the news,” Lavine said. “When I write news stories, I am as careful and thorough about sources as anyone you will find. … This is not a news story. This is a personal letter.”

On Tuesday, a statement signed by 16 Medill journalism professors, lecturers and the former dean said the “matter has become a crisis for the school” and called on Lavine to be more forthcoming. A group of journalism students are also circulating a petition calling on Lavine to provide notes or sources for his letters.