High-flyer quits amid plagiarism accusations

One of the most prominent writers at The New York Times has fled the newspaper after suffering a two-week suspension pending an investigation into a feature article he wrote almost a year ago on Florida oystermen that allegedly relied too heavily on the contributions of a freelance contributor.

Rick Bragg, who won a Pulitzer prize in 1996, announced his resignation, saying that staying on would "only lead to more tension". He added: "I don't want to have that tension in my life, and I do not wish it on The Times. I do wish the best for The Times."

For the newspaper, the loss of Mr Bragg is only one more setback in a crisis that began earlier this month with the acknowledgement that one of its younger reporters, Jayson Blair, 27, had filed a plethora of articles over five months packed with deceptions, plagiarisms and sleights of hand. Mr Blair was forced to resign on 1 May and has since spoken of being amused by his success in hoodwinking senior executives at the paper.

Mr Bragg, who covered the south-eastern states from New Orleans, said that since the Blair scandal erupted, the atmosphere in the newspaper had become "torturous" and management had scrambled to make sure everyone else on the staff was maintaining proper standards.

He defended his own actions, saying it was not unusual for staff reporters to use the input of freelancers to fill out stories when time pressures dictated it, even if the paper did not officially approve. "There is a huge gap in by-line policy and by-line practices here," he protested. "It is virtually impossible to get a freelancer a by-line in The New York Times."

The article was published last June and examined the plight of oystermen in the Gulf Coast town of Apalachicola. Mr Bragg briefly visited the port but used quotes mostly supplied by an intern who worked with him called Wes Yoder. The Times admitted last week that Mr Yoder should have been credited.

Another Times reporter took issue with Mr Bragg. Writing for the website of the Poynter Institute, a journalism school, David Firestone said: "It would have been unthinkable for a national reporter to use a stringer for a descriptive feature story."