The Houston Chronicle investigated stories written by former reporter Mike Ward and found that many of the people he quoted could not be found, despite extensive searches in multiple databases by a newsroom researcher and more work by a private investigator, the Chronicle reports. Ward, who has resigned, specialized in criminal justice, and many of his stories were cited in The Crime Report. A review of 744 stories back to 2014 found the names of 275 individuals who were presented as ordinary Texans. Of those quoted, 122, or 44 percent, could not be found. It’s impossible to prove that these people do not exist, only that with extensive research and digging, the team could not find them. In this age of online records, including property ownership and court filings, almost everyone can be found quickly.
The Chronicle team ran each name in Ward’s stories through a variety of search engines that comb through records of property ownership, voter registration, hunting and fishing licenses, phone numbers and criminal records. They queried Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts, along with Google and several other commercial search engines. Some of the stories the Chronicle published under Ward’s byline rested in large part on the quotes from people whose existence could not be verified, throwing the veracity of entire stories into question. Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a national media instructional and resource center, said mid-level newspaper editors ought to know how reporters are getting their work done. “Where did you find this guy? Do you have any other quotes from him? Where do you go to get man-on-the-street quotes? Are you using social media? This is the editor’s responsibility,” McBride said.