Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Editors dispute N&O editor's claim

What began as a few readers asking the Raleigh News & Observer executive editor for news Melanie Sill why the paper had published nothing about the loan scandal engulfing the liberal talk-radio network Air America has now grown bigger.

Editors of major newspapers are disputing a statement Sill made to readers explaining why the N&O told them nothing about the scandal for almost two weeks. The statement the editors are disputing is at least the third Sill has made concerning that aspect of the N&O’s not reporting the story.

Sill initially told N&O readers:

"We've checked our news services in recent days and do not find this story"


Sill’s statement came days after every other New York City daily except The Times had reported the story. The story had also been reported by newspapers nationwide, as well as by nationally syndicated columnists.

While some readers thanked Sill for her statement, most commenting at Sill’s blog and here have questioned why the N&O couldn’t publish when so many other newspapers and media organizations had. Many presented Sill with what might be called “chapter and verse” responses.

Faced with fact-based questions and commentary, Sill made another statement, this time telling readers there really was an Air America story:

"I found the same stories on Air America that you all mention a couple days ago in Internet searches and by using Factiva, a paid service we use for research"

Sill’s second statement led many readers to ask her why she hadn’t just published from those sources in the first place. They also wanted to know why Sill was only then acknowledging that she had known about the Air America story all along.

Days went by with no response from Sill. During that time many people urged her to respond.

Finally, last evening, Sill made a comment on her blog. I posted it at JinC here.

So what’s Sill’s latest explanation for not publishing on Air America for almost 2 weeks?

She says:

"(I)n checking our many news services I did not find a story available to The N&O for publication."

If we could only accept Sill’s third and latest statement as fact, I’d say, “Let’s forget the other two and move on.”

But Sill’s latest statement has been challenged by four editors of major dailies interviewed for this post. All were given the same background information you received here and were read her third statement.

All four editors said what Sill says in her third statement doesn’t fit with how American newspapers work.

“Look,” one editor said, “regardless of any formal contract we (newspapers) have with one another, we can take stories from each other. We do it all the time. You can’t lift the whole story; and you’re supposed to give credit. But a few paragraphs? No problem. You can even take from a couple of different newspapers and blend. If your editor wanted to publish that story, she could”

Another editor, who in all major respects agreed with the first editor, mentioned the term “précis.”

“It’s a journalistic expression, newsroom.” the editor said. “We all know what précis means. Basically, the lead paragraph. Maybe a little more. You get the basic meaning of the story. You tell someone to lift a précis from, and you name the paper.”

The editor added: “You say that (précis) to your editor. She should know what you mean. We all do.”

One editor, who was especially helpful as I sometimes repeated questions just to make sure I had answers right, ended our interview with this: “I’ve told you your editor can publish on what we have the same as we can publish. If she’s really telling you something different and saying what you’re saying, you’re getting stiffed.

What to do now?

I’m sending Sill this post, and will post in full here any response she makes

There will surely be some who will say that what I’ve reported from the four editors is not really how things work in journalism, and that Sill’s third statement is true. It would be nice if that turns out to be the case.

Thanks to the internet, each of us can search and identify sources which will help us answer the question of whether the N&O could have gone ahead and published as the four editors say it could have.

We can talk to others and then make our individual decisions. We’re all in free-choice land.

Please share your thoughts.

Tomorrow, I’ll be contacting people in journalism and elsewhere, and asking them for advice.

Thanks always for your help.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, John, wait, let me understand this.

You talked to four editors and they basically said: She said what?

I think Ms. Sill tried to bluff you.

Apparently you are neither a victim of a conspiracy theory nor easily bluffable.

-AC

Anonymous said...

I just Lexis/Nexis searched and posted to Sill's blog. Turns out, the N&O has copied quotes, sections and entire STORIES from the NY Post and NY Daily News in the last year.

So much for the "We found it but cannot publish it" thing.

-J. Stuart

Anonymous said...

J. Stuat - Excellent spike!

-AC

JWM said...

To J. Stuart,

Nice to see you commenting here.

I've followed your comments over at Editor Sill's blog. They've been helpful for being organizaed and fact-based. They've spoken directly to things Sill has said.

If you send a comment here with Lexis/Nexis references to which you just referred, I'll look at working it into a post.

Plase keep visiting and commenting.

You're helping to "put the story out there."

John

Readers wi

Anonymous said...

John,

What still mystifies me is why the N&O felt they had to wait until someone else published a story about this in the first place. I thought getting a "scoop" was what journalism was all about. The N&O should have undertaken original reporting of its own rather than having to rely upon someone else to do it for them. I wonder if Ms. Sill thinks her job is limited to taking stories from press agencies and other newspapers and editing them for the amount of space she has rather than having her reporters do some diggin on their own. If so, how sad.

The Opinionator

Mr. C said...

Can we expect a "Dear John" letter from Ms. Sill in the coming days?

Very Nice work John.

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