Thursday, Jul 31, 2014 07:40 pm est

Jayson Blair documentary presents old news

Posted on April 8, 2014 | by Kathy Dimaya

courtesy of ITVS

Journalism seemed to be Jayson Blair’s calling, beginning with his position as editor of his high school newspaper. Soon after, he won a coveted internship at The New York Times, where he would work as a reporter for several years before his plagiarism caught up with him.

One of the very few African-American writers in the publication, Blair rose above his colleagues in a remarkable way. In April 2003, a scandal arose, which brought to light several instances in which Blair had plagiarized articles. The situation became more controversial when the newspaper was accused of ignoring Blair’s behavior in order to maintain staff diversity.

Filmmaker Samantha Grant has now made a documentary about this issue, “A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times.”

Viewers leave the film understanding the moral of the story — plagiarism never pays off. However, it is confusing whether Grant is sharing Blair’s side of the story, attempting to convey the evils of plagiarism, showcasing the vulnerabilities of the best newspaper in the world or shedding light on the issue of affirmative action.

“A Fragile Trust” deserves merits for its creativity in the documentary genre, but it lacks in originality and fails to keep the viewer’s focus.

The stylistic elements of this documentary set it apart from other works in the genre. The interview style is very honest and a little discomfiting — especially those with Blair himself who could not look at the camera or his interviewer directly in the eye.

In addition, during long anecdotes, parts of the story are re-enacted in black and white animation, which serve as a useful pause between segments of heavier material. The movie portrays periods before, after and during Blair’s plagiarism scandal. Though not in chronological order, the structure is easy to follow.

Inevitably, Grant’s work draws comparisons with another story of plagiarism in the high ranks of journalism — “Shattered Glass,” a 2003 fictionalized account of a similar plagiarism scandal at The New Republic, centered around reporter Stephen Glass.

In fact, “Shattered Glass” was mentioned in the documentary by an interviewee. The influence of “Shattered Glass” is deeply felt in the creation of this project.

Though the film lacks originality — which sets it apart from “Shattered Glass” — “A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power and The New York Times” sheds light on plagiarism, serving to warn all journalists about that dark, unending road.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 8 print edition. Kathy Dimaya is a contributing writer. Email her at


profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.