A defense of Star's reporting on allegations made by councilman
by StarEditorBobDavis
 Behind the Star
Aug 08, 2011 | 2690 views |  0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Consider this a defense of Anniston Star reporter Laura Camper. In his most recent column, Anniston Star Media Critic Paul Rilling criticized Camper’s July 6 article, “Little: Plans for judicial complex are troubling.”

Rilling, a former editor with The Star, is an experienced journalist. His monthly column is a useful exercise; it allows an independent voice to weigh on the work of the newspaper.

That said, I must respectfully disagree with his findings regarding Camper’s July 6 article.

Rilling wrote:

l

A basic rule of news writing is that a news story should “show, not tell.” This means the reporter tells readers what has happened, not the reporter’s or editor’s opinions about it. You don’t write that it was hot yesterday; you write about the temperature, the humidity, comparisons with other years, how people are dealing with it. You show that it was hot.

A July story in The Star, headlined, “Little: Plans for judicial complex are troubling,” told the reader what The Star thinks about Councilman Ben Little’s opposition to the judicial complex (July 6, Page 1A)

In the lead paragraph, it said, “Councilman Ben Little has made a point of questioning the way the proposed judicial complex has moved forward at council meetings and ward meetings, but has made no specific allegations nor offered any proof to back up his claims.”

The article, by Laura Camper, told readers what to think, then went on to support that viewpoint. The story is presented as a front-page news story but no new developments were reported. It made a good case for its point of view, but it belonged in the commentary pages.

l

In light of this critique, I revisited the article in question. By my count, it contains 29 statements of fact; most of them center on Little’s frequent allegations of wrongdoing on the part of those working on the city’s proposed judicial complex. To date, none of the officials mentioned in the article have challenged any of its facts.

 

The purpose of the article was to examine Little’s accusations and his failure thus far to provide any evidence for them. Little, an elected official, has repeatedly alleged corruption on the part of the entity charged with overseeing the construction of the judicial center, the Public Building Authority. Little’s allegations have taken place and continue to take place during public sessions of the City Council.

 

While reporting the article, Camper offered Councilman Little an opportunity to spell out the details of his allegations and produce evidence of them. Little declined, saying, “The PBA board knows what has been done and how things have unfolded.”

 

Several items are important to keep in mind:

 

l Little is accusing members of a municipal authority of wrongdoing, the sort that could be a violation of criminal law.

 

Little’s allegations are made in a public forum, which is aired live on The Star’s website.

 

Journalists are not stenographers. In its code of ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists writes that reporters should, “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.”

 

That is what Camper and The Star did in the July 6 article. Quite simply, we asked a public official for evidence of frequently asserted claims. He declined, and we reported that he declined and put his opposition to the project in context. Reporters’ and editors’ personal opinions on Little and his opposition to the judicial complex project were (a.) not voiced and (b.) wholly irrelevant to the article in question.

 

Despite a diligent search of the story, I can find no support for the claim that The Star told “the reader what The Star thinks about Councilman Ben Little’s opposition to the judicial complex.”

 

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