Wick Communications

You and the NYT

In journalism on October 30, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 12.44.37 PM

In a recent column, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan looked back on her third year on the job. The public editor at the Times is more or less an ombudsman, a liaison between readers and the newspaper staff. Sullivan has pushed the position into the digital age.

She wrote that she gets more than 800 emails a week from readers. Lord only knows how many times she is referenced on social media. @Sulliview has about 27,000 followers on Twitter.

She’s noticed a pattern to the kinds of complaints and questions she gets and it occurred to me that these categories of reader inquiry might look familiar to us. I know they are concerns of mine.

Anonymous sources. She says she has repeatedly bent the ear of Times brass about what she and others perceive as a rather cavalier use of anonymous sources. I’m not sure I follow the Times closely enough to have an opinion, but I know we take anonymous sourcing seriously at the Half Moon Bay Review and use it very sparingly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we’ve been so tempted. To my mind, anonymous sources only make sense for important stories when there is no other way to get the information and when sources have a legitimate concern about giving up their names.

Innocent till proven guilty

In Media law on October 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm


We have a time-honored legal tradition in this country and really among free people everywhere: You are innocent until proven guilty. It comes from the Latin, Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. (The burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies.) It goes back to Roman law.

It’s important not to forget that principle in all aspects of our journalism. And it’s especially easy to assume guilt in headlines, where you may only have a handful of words to convey a complicated set of circumstances.

The headline you see above comes from a Wick paper earlier this month. The story says two local gents were arrested on suspicion of theft, but the headline clearly implies guilt. There has been no trial, yet we have these two guys named, with their photos, under a headline saying they did it.

Many of us have written similar headlines in the rush of deadline. …

Or forever hold your peace

In Ethics on October 30, 2014 at 12:29 pm
Jillian Danielson for News-Herald. Kim Manson and Kelly Meister

Photo courtesy Jillian Danielson for News-Herald. That is Kim Manson on the left with Kelly Meister.

It’s pretty clear now that history is on the side of same-sex marriage. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex marriages to go forward in California. Since then it has been one victory after another for proponents of same-sex marriage.

Today the practice is allowed in 31 states. Gallup reports that 55 percent of Americans support gay marriage, up from 27 percent less than 20 years ago. Things change.

Earlier this month, a federal judge struck down the ban on gay marriage in Arizona and the state’s attorney general said appealing would “waste taxpayers’ money,” according to USA Today. The floodgates were open. Many Arizonans were suddenly free to marry for the first time.

At least two Wick newspapers jumped in to cover history. In Nogales, reporters were unable (at this writing at least) to contact the first couple to get married there. Editor Jonathan Clark and I traded emails over whether to list the names in the regular marriage license list (we agreed the answer was “yes”) and how to handle the story without participation of the newlyweds.

In Lake Havasu, reporter Zachary Matson had a little more luck.


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