Want a quick lesson in journalism? Newspapers do the real work.
Want to know how I know? All it took was a mistake.
At the press conference today the cameras were again lined up to shoot the assistant attorney general as she gave the latest report. The Conway Daily Sun photographer and I showed up about 10 minutes early, long after all the television crews had set up.
One of the camera operators noticed us standing a bit behind everyone else. “You guys from the Conway Daily Sun?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He smiled. “You guys are killing it with this story,” he said.
“Yeah,” said another guy, “we get all our news from you.”
But this post isn’t for me to boast. Actually, just the opposite. At 7:30 p.m. last night, after more than nine hours waiting for a body to come out of the pond, I took a closer look at the police log from the night before. Two men had been interviewed by police at the base of Cranmore ski area, right near where the body was found. One of them was the brother of the man Krista Dittmeyer had a child with. Suspicious, I thought, this has to go in the paper.
Had I been a bit more on top of it I would have noticed the reason police met the two men there: because they called police. But I didn’t, and the story I wrote said police stopped the two men, not that the two men asked police to come meet them.
Fast-forward to today, 6 p.m. The NBC affiliate in Portland announces two men were stopped by police at the base of the mountain, one of them the brother of the man Dittmeyer had a child with. A quick look by a fresh pair of eyes would have cleared this error up, but no one there gave it a look. They just read off my story.
My story wasn’t wrong, but it set the wrong tone about the two men. One wound up arrested on an unrelated warrant, and because I omitted the phone call they look bad.
I can admit it — I screwed up. It was a long day, and I miss read a report not meant for human consumption. At least I’m not the television station, however — their only excuse is that they didn’t check the facts they were reporting straight out of the newspaper (uncredited, I might add). Who screwed up there? Not one person, but their entire process of reporting.
I did what I can to make it right on my end. I wrote a new story that will run tomorrow. In it is says they made the phone call despite it leading to one of them getting arrested. I also include the criminal record of the man not arrested, so it isn’t all positive, but it certainly puts the two in a better light. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it gives a clearer impression of what happened.
I’ll be interested to see if the television station will correct their mistake (they weren’t the only ones, by the way), or if they’ll just keep on rolling. We may be killing it, but I report for one paper. Everyone else would do well to do their own reporting.