Monday, April 14, 2008

Editing the N&O’s Mar. 25 framing story (Post 1)

Some of you’ve asked questions about the editing of the Raleigh News & Observer’s deliberately fraudulent Mar. 25, 2006 story headlined:

Dancer gives details of ordeal

A woman hired to dance for the Duke lacrosse team describes a night of racial slurs, growing fear and, finally, sexual violence
The story carries the bylines of reporters Samiha Khanna and Anne Blythe.

For some months the only editor the N&O identified as having worked on the story was Linda Williams, at the time of it’s publication one of three N&O deputy managing editors, and now one of three senior editors.

I’m not certain whether Williams’ new position represents a promotion. It may actually be part of a cost-saving restructuring by a newspaper whose parent McClatchy Co. has seen it’s stock price fall more that 80% in the last five years and whose bonds now have “junk” ratings.

But all of that’s for another post.

Today, I just want to keep a promise I made at the start of last week to respond to many readers’ questions concerning editorial involvement in the Mar. 25 story.

Specifically, I want to respond to the question of whether Williams
bears full editorial responsibility for the Mar. 25 story or anything close to full responsibility.

The answer’s “No,” although many people wrongly suggest she does.

Williams and the N&O itself contributed to those people’s misperception by repeatedly naming only Williams as an editor who made decisions concerning the most prominent part of the story – the interview with the then anonymous accuser.

But it’s a certainty other editors were involved in the production of the story, including critical decisions concerning the interview.

Evidence to support that statement is found in an Apr. 4, 2006 N&O Live Q&A with Samiha Khanna. Here’s the first Q and her answer:
Moderator: A reader writes: "Why was the alleged victim granted anonymity in your interview? I understand the policy of not identifying alleged victims of sexual assault, but that is different than letting them make their accusations publicly behind a veil of secrecy. Particularly absent any criminal charges. I doubt you would have let a lacrosse team member make accusations against the victim anonymously, as a protected source. Or would you have allowed that?"

SK: This is an issue that we discussed at length among the top editors of the newspaper. Being that we had given members of the lacrosse team, their parents, and leaders in the athletic department an opportunity to address these allegations, we had a responsibility to give the alleged victim the opportunity to tell her story as well. (emphasis added) …
The entire Q&A’s here.

Further evidence is found on the thread of an Editors' Blog post, "March 25 interview." Then executive editor for news Melanie Sill included the following in a thread comment in which she scolded readers for their criticisms of the Mar. 25 story and other stories that were part of the N&O racially biased, inflammatory and often false Duke Hoax reporting:
Comment from: Melanie Sill [Member] •
10/09/06 at 09:59

..."Some of you have conflated decisions made by several different editors and decided one editor, Deputy ME Linda Williams, made all these decisions." ...
If we only had to rely on what Khanna and Sill said, reasonable people might doubt what they said?

But you can be sure of the following: The Mar. 25 story was a front-pager, above the fold, spread across five columns. That meant that not only did the N&O’s front-page editor get involved in the story, but so did other top editors who form a committee to decide which stories and photos will go on the front-page.

I’ve interviewed journalists familiar with the N&O’s news operations and/or the operations of newspapers with circulations similar to the N&O’s. Every journalist I interviewed rejected the notion of Williams bearing most or all of the responsibility for the story.

Each journalist gave a range estimate of the number of editors who would have worked on the story. The range with the lowest estimate of editors was “6 to 8.” The range with the highest estimate was “7 to 10.”

In a few days I’ll post again concerning the editing of the Mar. 25 story. I’ll focus on some of the critical editorial decisions which had to be made and consider which editors were responsible for them.

One thing to bear in mind as you look back on this post and something I’ll mention at the start of the next post: All editors who work on a story - metro desk, copy, headline, lay-out, front-page, deputy managing editor, managing editor, executive editor for news – have a responsibility to check for errors and question the content of a story as it moves to publication both for what’s in it and for what’s left out.

Finally, if you haven't read the Mar. 25, 2006 story recently I hope you do before you read the next post. The story's here.


mac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the infamous story from the N&O. It's even worse looking at it a second time. Wow! Does the order of the bylines mean anything? Was one the primary reporter and the other, the primary writer? How is it known that Khanna interviewed the phony "victim?" Did Sill consult with Quarles on this inflammatory and fundamentally misleading story?

kbp said...

Thanks John

The results from that article was devastating enough that they could all share the blame equally without elevating my opinion of them.


Anonymous said...

Those who haven't read it yet should read the original Khanna-Blythe story posted by John in Carolina. How has the N&O gotten away with no corrections or explanations for this infamous piece of "journalism?" This should be a case study at the Missouri or Northwestern journalism schools.