Setting the Record Straight

When I first started out in journalism, before the internet age, I worked at a newspaper where the copy process was very strict. Before a story was assigned, there was conversation with editors about how to approach it. When the piece was turned in, it would be given to the fact-checking team. Then the copy editors would get it. By the time the article hit the paper, it was thoroughly vetted.

Since then, journalism has changed. Fact-checking teams have been reduced to one person, or eliminated entirely. Copy editors have been laid off in waves. In the Twitter age, news outlets are desperate to beat each other to the punch, which is how we get major news outlets like CNN and The New York Times trumpeting news that turns out to be entirely untrue.

The controversy over the Shomrim SUV is a good example of how writing quickly can compromise a piece. When this story was brought to our attention more than a week ago by our then-senior reporter, it was a Saturday night. He had read a story in Baltimore Brew, which was itself written in reaction to a Baltimore Jewish Life story, and wanted to post something on the JT’s website as soon as possible. We decided to wait until people were back at work and would be taking calls so we could verify the information on the other sites.

It’s a good thing we did because, as it turned out, the Brew story was inaccurate. By waiting, we were able to publish a longer, more in-depth story that was factually correct and added more information and context. Our intention was to do the same with further coverage of the Shomrim SUV story. When an issue gets heated, when community voices get loud, sometimes the facts get lost. We wanted to proceed with caution.

Unfortunately, this desire to do careful, quality work has been misrepresented in a recent Brew article, which says that our senior reporter quit his job because of “his editors’ decision to kill a story.”

We did not kill the story. Rather, we wanted to run a shorter version of the story he turned in and then have a meeting to talk about ways to approach a longer story, which we still plan to do.

Our reporter resigned and told the Brew he quit because of what he implied is some bias we have — even suggesting we received warning phone calls from prominent members of the Orthodox community to keep us from writing the story. As the editorial director of this publication, it concerns me that our credibility is being undermined over something that didn’t happen. We wanted to run a short piece, which you’ll read in this week’s JT, and the reporter wanted to run a longer piece. He didn’t get his way. He quit. It really is that simple.

It is important that our readers and our employees understand that we would never compromise editorial principles to satisfy a particular constituency. Mid-Atlantic Media’s mission is to build and strengthen the Jewish community as a whole, and JT’s editorial strategy is to tell engaging, compelling, accurate stories that matter to all members of the Jewish community, whatever their denominational stripe.

Liz Spikol is Mid-Atlantic Media’s editorial director. She can be reached at lspikol@midatlanticmedia.com.

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