A sports analogy for newspapers
Much like goalies or pitchers, newspapers can play the role of goat or hero.
And, like a goalie or pitcher, newspapers have a team of individuals helping them be the winner or loser.
Newspapers can inform and enlighten or enrage and disappoint. Unfortunately, the latter usually surrounds misinformation, unclear themes or errors.
And just like on a soccer field, sometimes the ball (or mistakes) can get through all 10 players (or a newsroom), past the goalie and into the net.
As I’ve pointed out before, this is the kind of industry that prints its mistakes every day. We don’t have the luxury of deleting the e-mail, amending the report or the time to re-edit a memo over a three-day period. We don’t even have the luxury of our cousins in broadcasting – radio and TV – to immediately retract or clarify a statement. We have to wait 24 hours.
We have to – and must – get it right from the start.
Sometimes, we have sources that give us incorrect information. Even when we double-check, it can be wrong.
But, as one reader recently pointed out, “The damage is already done.” Sometimes we write about information that is seemingly innocuous, but readers or advertisers see it differently. Just the way a sentence is worded can change the tone of the story, depending on who is reading the story.
And, because a newspaper like the Summit Daily News is read heavily each day, any unclear statements or errors multiply the seriousness of a situation by about a million and can have far-reaching impacts.
Despite the popular belief that characterizes newspapers and politicians as untrustworthy, 99 percent of media outlets make it their sole job to present news as unbiased. We strive to get it right and have absolutely no hidden agenda.
One way we show readers and the community we care about getting it right is to run corrections. But, again, the perception is that newspapers want to cover up their mistakes or bury the correction where no one can see it.
Currently, we run corrections or clarifications on page 2. But, feedback we’ve received has indicated people don’t always see the correction. So, what’s the best page? – Page 1.
Readers may have noticed over the past two weeks that if we print a correction, we have been putting it on the front page. We believe this is the best place in the paper for readers to view the correction, as well as show our responsibility to get it right.
We know we always will play the role of goat and hero. We know our team is responsible for the pat on the back or the kick in the ass. And we accept that. Ultimately, our responsibility is to readers – bottom line.
The following are a couple examples of misinformation that found their way into the newspaper.
n In the April 25 edition of the Summit Daily News, we published a story about the town of Breckenridge’s affordable housing project – Gibson Heights. The Breckenridge Town Council was not happy with the project, and the town’s planning staff was receiving numerous calls from people concerned about the development. In short, the council lambasted several aspects of the development.
In steps the problem: The first paragraph of the story said, “Over the past few months, the Breckenridge planning staff has fielded numerous complaints from citizens about Gibson Heights, the town’s affordable housing component in the Vista Point neighborhood east of Breckenridge.” The cutline to a photo of a Gibson Heights’ home also indicated the homes were located inside Vista Point.
The Gibson Heights’ development is not part of Vista Point, but rather is adjacent to the Vista Point development.
In our story, we use Vista Point as a locator for readers to understand where Gibson Heights is located. But, because Vista Point was mentioned in the first paragraph of the story, many readers thought the two developments were one and the same.
What happened? The Vista Point developer received several calls from concerned buyers, bankers and real estate agents worried about the town’s reaction and thought the town was having misgivings about Vista Point. None of this was true, but many readers came away with that thought, and rumors spread to other potential buyers in Vista Point.
Vista Point officials wanted to make it clear they have no development association with Gibson Heights. They are completely separate.
One phrase in a one story that was used to help readers understand the location of a property turned out to give some readers the wrong impression.
n In the Friday, May 10 edition of the Summit Daily News, we published a story about a Summit High School teacher whose contract was up for discussion at a Summit School Board meeting. It appeared the school board voted to not renew the teacher’s contract. The next day, after the meeting, the reporter wrote the story about the teacher’s non-renewal. But, when he spoke with the teacher later that day, she indicated the school board had voted to postpone the decision and gather more information.
So, the reporter changed his story to read there was a postponement. Unfortunately, the teacher misunderstood what happened at the meeting, and it turned out the board had, in fact, decided not to renew her contract.
We got it wrong after talking with a source.
Whitney Childers is the editor of the Summit Daily News and may be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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