Column: A matter of responsibility and fairnessWORTHINGTON — Sometimes, there can be a fine line between reporting the news and reporting the news responsibly. Reporting factual information is one thing. Reporting an unattributed accusation, or a rumor, is another.
By: Ryan McGaughey, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Sometimes, there can be a fine line between reporting the news and reporting the news responsibly.
Reporting factual information is one thing. Reporting an unattributed accusation, or a rumor, is another.
I bring this up because of an article that appeared in the Daily Globe back on Oct. 15. The subject was a local Latino study that had been completed, and the story by Globe reporter Laura Grevas explained a synopsis of its results. A couple of businesses were cited by name in the article in a positive light; another was mentioned in a not-so-favorable one.
In the article, it was reported that one of the individuals participating in the study felt subjected to racism while being helped at Worthington’s Burger King. The article also said that such specific aspects of the story couldn’t necessarily be verified; in other words, they’re not provable.
Should we have reported the accusation of racism and specifically named Burger King?
Had I seen the story as completed the evening before — it was still being written when I departed for the day, though it was indeed read by at least one other person in the newsroom before it was printed — I almost certainly would have stricken the text on Burger King. Why? Because this was not only something we couldn’t reasonably verify, but it had come from an unnamed source whose identity was unknown to us.
Would it have been different if one of us at this newspaper had someone come to us and tell us — on the condition of anonymity — that something or someone in the community or region was crooked or otherwise disreputable? Probably, because even though we can withhold their name in a story, we would still be aware of their identity — and we could go so far as to verify their integrity with someone else. It should also be noted that such a story would involve contacting the other side for comment.
In the case of the Latino study article, we didn’t know the name of the person making the accusation, or for that matter the context in which it was being made. Perhaps the person was, for instance, a former Burger King employee who left on less-than-agreeable terms. Or, the person could be someone simply looking to stir up trouble. Or, they could be telling the truth. Either way, we had no way of knowing any of this ... and yet the accusation was reported anyway.
Since the story — as well as a follow-up “El Blogo” by Laura — was written, I’ve spoken with Chad Nixon, who manages the local Burger King. Understandably, he was disappointed to say the least with the story, and he told me there had been angry and accusing phone calls afterward, as well as an effect in business. He told me of the high percentage of minority workers he employs, and of Burger King’s involvement with Los Cabos Children’s Foundation in Mexico.
I respect everything Chad had to say, and apologized to him for the article. But before any cynics out there say I was just trying to suck up to an advertiser, I offer a final point. If something had been published in the paper about John Doe doing something bad or committing some type of horrible act — and we had no means of proving it and didn’t know the identity or the character of the person who was saying John Doe was doing something bad — I would expect an innocent John Doe to be plenty ticked when reading it. It doesn’t matter if John Doe advertises, subscribes or does neither. It’s a matter of fairness.
It should be added that while we received negative feedback about the Latino study article and the mention of Burger King, there are some who feel we did the right thing. We can appreciate anyone who wants to know the good and bad of what’s going on in our readership area. Most importantly, though, we will continue to work diligently toward fulfilling our mission of reporting the news in a responsible — not to mention an informative and accurate — fashion.
Ryan McGaughey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.