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Columbia Native Jayson Blair Reflects on Resignation from New York Times

May 1, 2013 will mark the 10-year anniversary of Blair's resignation from the paper of record. Today, he works as a life coach.

COLUMBIA, MD -- In the journalism world, the names of plagiarists are noted in the industry's history. But perhaps none is as notorious as Columbia native Jayson Blair.

Blair resigned on May 1, 2003 from the New York Times after a string of improper journalistic practices that The Times called "a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper." This week is the 10-year anniversary of his resignation.

On Monday, he spoke with Patch about his past, what he's doing now, and how his notoriety affects his life.

"A number of TV stations and newspapers have reached out to me this week," said Blair. "Most of them either want to look at what had happened or they want to look at the change in my life. I've been dodging most if it."

"I think an anniversary is sort of an artificial thing. It brings back memories both good and bad. It was a terrible time in my life 10 years ago. I had absolutely no hope, no direction."

Blair was 27 at the time of his resignation and had worked for the Times since 1998. During one span from October 2002 to April of 2003, the Times reported that there were problems in 36 of Blair's 73 national articles he wrote for the paper. 

"In the final months the audacity of the deceptions grew by the week, suggesting the work of a troubled young man veering toward professional self-destruction," reported the Times. The aftermath of Blair's resignation generated enough turmoil at the paper of record to lead to the resignation of Howell Raines, the paper's executive editor.

Blair, now 37, is the owner of a life coaching company called Goose Creek Consulting in Centreville, VA. He said he oversees 10 employees including five other life coaches and a psychiatrist.

"I'm rebuilding my life and helping people with mental health problems," said Blair. "I never would have imagined I made as much progress as I have, but there's always going to be some regret about my actions."

When asked how someone who so effectively ruined his own career can help others, Blair said, "It's about being blunt with them, being honest and trying to protect them to keep them from going down the paths that I went down myself."

After his resignation, Blair said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said the mental illness may have made him desperate, but it wasn't the cause of his downfall.

"It didn't explain why I did what I did, that had to do with character issues," said Blair.

After his resignation in 2003, the Times did an exhaustive study of his past work and published the review in an over 7,000-word front page story on May 11, 2003. In it, the Times wrote he had fabricated quotes about the Washington sniper and the sadness of families whose loved ones were killed in Iraq. His career at the Times amounted to "systematic fraud" in which he deceived senior editors, lied about his locations, and fabricated quotes, according to the report.

Arthur Suzberger Jr., the chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of the paper, called it "a huge black eye."

Blair said if he wasn't caught he could have done more damage to the Times and himself.

"It's good to get that wake-up call," Blair said.

Over time, Blair said his character changed.

"In a lot of ways I've matured, I've grown up," said Blair, who added that he now has gray hair.

"The one thing that I go back to over and over again, if you look at all the factors, the age, the pressure, the youth, all the things people find attributed to me, even the mental illness," said Blair. "All those things do not matter compared to character."

He said his lies were the manifestation of his character at that time.

"I'm in a very different place right now," said Blair. "Now I look back and I see what I've built since then and I'm really happy. I probably wouldn't do it if I had to do it over again."

He said he finds enjoyment from helping people in the same way he needed help when he was younger.

But how does he develop trust with his clients now?

"It's the same thing I say to everybody," said Blair. "You sit down with someone, you listen to their stories, you listen to what they have to say. You make your own reading on whether you can trust them, and that's what people do with me. They listen to my story, if they care about me, they know what I've been through and they ask themselves if there's something they can get from me."

He said he has a special connection to Columbia, where he lived from his birth in 1976 until moving to Houston in 1980.

"Columbia had an impact on the pieces of me that are good," said Blair. "The values that are there, the good people, the notion of being accepting, of being forgiving, all of those things."

"I remember in junior high school I wrote essays about what place you would want to live," said Blair, who said he was then living in Georgia. "I wrote long essays about Columbia."

Blair said he knows what his legacy in journalism is, but hopes his one in life will be different.

"In journalism my legacy will always be the lessons that can be learned from my experience. The lessons about how people can fall down with good intentions. In life, hopefully the legacy for me will be that of a person who made a mistake and did his best to make up for it," said Blair.

On Monday, the Diamondback, the student newspaper of the University of Maryland, published the first in a 3-part series about Blair. In the first part, the paper examines the problems he had at the helm of the Diamondback, which led to his resignation from that paper.

Blair did not comment for that publication.

"I didn't participate initially because I didn't see what good could come out of it," said Blair.

When asked if he'll do any other interviews this week, Blair said, "I think this is going to be the only interview I do."

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sonia stewart December 24, 2013 at 03:16 PM
I think about Robert O Steven, formerly Robert Steven Oakes-as in the New York Times Oakes Family. He, his wife and Hariett Walters stole millions from the DC Government to fund his Jaguars, tailored shirts while he wore a Naval Academy ring when he didn't even graduate. I hope that when he gets out of prison, he will be able to
JaySmith December 25, 2013 at 12:47 PM
Sonia: Do you mean the "Ochs" family? The Sulzberger family married into Ochs famownership and the guy Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger ran it until a few years ago. Disgraceful clueless guy, no insight into the 'real' America
sonia stewart December 25, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Thanks for the correction Jay.
JaySmith December 26, 2013 at 08:15 AM
check this out, at 6:50 he starts his speech and his 'apology' to the new generation. What a "know-it-all".....who knows nothing. He doesn't even realize the greatest problem his generation and his newspaper allowed to happen.....the growth of local & federal govt to mammoth and unsustainable proportions. NEVER in the NYT on page 1 have they ever hinted at the unaffordable levels of govt spending all over the place in our country, much less right under their noses in NYC. What an 'enabler' that newspaper has been, and he has NO CLUE how his paper failed to deliver the real news. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/192696-1
sonia stewart December 26, 2013 at 11:48 AM
All I can say is wow. I started reading the NYT back in the late sixties when I was in my high school library. Later in college and the military, I'd actually pay for it. I'd read about three newspaper a day and thought the NYT was the best. Boy, that was decades ago.

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