Wednesday, March 4, 2015

From the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)—a journalism lesson for Margaret Menge

Here are two letters in response to Margaret Menge's inaccurate and fabricated 'news story' she published last week:

Here are some excerpts from Ms. Menge's 'report':
– . . ."the owner of the Gulfstream Hotel, held a quiet little meeting"
– "According to Commissioner Christopher McVoy who chanced upon the meeting". . .
– . . ."meeting to which only property owners were invited."
– "I'm livid at the rest of the commissioners, he [McVoy] said."
Here is what actually happened: The new owners of the Gulfstream Hotel held a private meeting with owners of neighboring condos and other neighbors. The Gulfstream Hotel owners are being good neighbors and discussing what they are thinking of doing with the property. No plans are finalized. Nothing has come before the city commission. Nothing has been voted on. This is the pre-planning phase when ideas are discussed. Period. End of story.

Ms. Menge's 'story' is a fabrication. She didn't have the time to verify the information she published. [Also note she was not present.]

This private meeting occurred on Wednesday afternoon. Menge's paper (always free) gets distributed on Friday morning. Ms. Menge simply hadn't the time to get the story correct before going to press. But she published it anyhow.

Here is what the SPJ Code of Ethics says a true journalist should do [in no particular order]:
– Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
– Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.
Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness. [emphasis added]
– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
– Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
– Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible
to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
Label advocacy and commentary.
Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.