The No. 2 editor at the Lynchburg News & Advance resigned yesterday after acknowledging that he had tampered with the Virginia paper's entries for journalism prizes.
Bob Morgan, the associate managing editor, made changes to News & Advance stories after they were published and submitted the altered electronic versions to the Virginia Press Association.
"The person responsible is no longer with the newspaper, and we'll do everything we can to rebuild trust with the public," Managing Editor Joe Stinnett said in an interview. He declined to say whether Morgan had been fired.
Stinnett said "several" stories submitted for prizes were changed after publication, and that "some of the changes were significant," though he would not elaborate. But he said that "quite a few stories were not changed," including one involving a young girl who was shot in North Carolina, which won a "Best in Show" writing award.
Stinnett, noting that he has apologized to the press association, said he is still investigating some pieces and does not know the total number of prize submissions that were changed. He stressed that there were no problems with the stories as published.
The News & Advance won the VPA's "sweepstakes" in March, meaning it captured more honors than any competitor in the mid-size division, covering newspapers with circulations of 20,000 to 50,000. This involved more than a dozen awards.
It was the newspaper's second sweepstakes prize in the last three years.
Morgan, who has worked for the News & Advance since 1985, was not in the office late yesterday and did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
Reaction to the disclosure by the 37,000-circulation paper was swift.
"I am shocked and sickened to learn about this," Ginger Stanley, the press group's executive director, said yesterday. "VPA will immediately set up a process to investigate and take whatever action may be appropriate."
In a note posted on the paper's Web site, Stinnett described "a breach within our organization. . . . The unauthorized editing of a story, for whatever purpose, is unethical.
"Associate Managing Editor Bob Morgan, who made the changes, has apologized and is no longer with the newspaper. . . . As a result of this discovery, we are reviewing past contest entries and will change the process we use for entering future contests."
The ethical linchpin of the many national, state and local journalism prizes handed out each year is that articles and photos be submitted exactly as they were originally published. Although competition for the awards, and the bragging rights they confer, is often fierce, changing entries after the fact is virtually unheard of.
Stinnett said in the interview that the problem was discovered Friday when one of his reporters, consulting the electronic version of a story, noticed that it differed from the published version.