Reporters sometimes make mistakes
Stabroek News
December 12, 2001

Dear Editor,

As a practising journalist for umpteen years and an editor for a glorious and rewarding and enlightening many, I am aware of the temptation that newspaper editorial staff are faced with to try to support and to at times strongly justify the "purple prose" of their staff, sent on assignment: particularly when complaints are floated that reportage is not squaring with the facts as others involved with the issues see them.

As one of the editors of two quite prominent and long established newspapers in Jamaica, the Daily and Sunday Gleaner and the Evening and Weekend Star, I too have often times been faced with this reader/viewer versus enthusiastic reporter confrontation.

Loyalty to one's staff and the concomitant urge to be supportive of a colleague and fellow involved, is a constant that challenges one, without a doubt; but the discipline of this, our most important fourth estate, is infinitely greater than these human and humane considerations to my mind.

Our training and trainers had carefully cautioned us, as I remember it, that an important consideration is that the editor was not there. Also, that mistakes could be and are often duly made by reporters working to a deadline and also by those whose imagination and perhaps even conviction gets a hold of them, as they churn out what sees the light of print day.

The serious responsibility of the supervising editor is to let mature judgement come to his or her aid when a complaint is raised.

In this instance, the editor's note to my letter does not adequately address the issue (SN Dec 8, 01) and an omission from my letter does not help, the situation, one whit. It clouds it. Let us examine.

The editor's note stated, inter alia: (while agreeing that the residents helped greatly to bring the fire under control before the brigade came) that "moreover, they all (the three reporters said to be there) saw people there removing articles from the bond and it went on to state that some angry women claimed that since they quelled the fire they should be compensated. The note also asserted that it is confirmed that items are missing from the bond.

Perhaps had the paragraph that I penned not been omitted, there would have been no need for the implied vehemence of the wording that tried to justify what the residents objected to.

That omitted paragraph stated: (SN Dec 3, 2001)

"He (the objecting restaurant owner and resident of Charlotte street where the fire took place) felt that journalists must not stray from the facts. The owners of the three businesses had commended them (residents of Charlotte street) for the help given (timely indeed, in fact) and that the only things that came away from the burnt out building was "a set of flowers" that were damaged and given to some of the ladies present".

One wonders why this seemingly innocuous paragraph was left out.

One also wonders whether it has not crossed the mind of the editor and owners of Stabroek News that a complaint could only have been made by persons who bought and read the paper. Supporters of the medium?

Popularity and readership should always be on one's front lobe, shouldn't they? I think so.

Yours faithfully,

Lorri Alexander

Editor's note

Each reporter was questioned when the complaint was received. They all categorically maintain that they saw items being removed from the bond. It has also been confirmed, as we said, that several items are missing.

Several paragraphs of Mr Alexander's first letter were deleted as we considered them peripheral to the main allegation which is that our report was not accurate.

Is Mr Alexander suggesting in his last paragraph that one should report falsely in the interest of selling newspapers.