An ethical issue and my call for dual transparency

Sunday morning started like it normally does for me. Wake up, search through my phone, cry/read my email, get ready for work, etc.

In the midst of all of this, Jenny Surane, my paper’s editor-in-chief, sent me a column that popped up in her Google alerts. It was written by John Railey, the editorial editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, and it is a Tar Heel’s take on the UNC academic scandal.

Railey calls for increased transparency and a return to the Bill Friday days, while also remarking on how Chancellor Carol Folt’s battlecry for a more transparent administration has fallen short.

This column has been written in a variety of fashions by a variety of people for a variety of sources; needless to say, it was something else in the column that was of interest to me and Jenny.

What caught Jenny’s eye and then my eye was his mention of a lawsuit against UNC that neither of us had heard about. And this, not to sound overconfident in my knowledge, was very startling, seeing how we have covered UNC’s scandal as closely as anyone.

Railey wrote that “ten media organizations, including BH Media’s newspapers in North Carolina, of which the Journal is part, are suing in state court to require Folt and others on her leadership team to provide the public records of 21 employees mentioned in an investigation of academic improprieties in its African and Afro-American Studies Department.”

While we knew of the prior suit against UNC, neither Jenny nor I had heard of this lawsuit — and were a little annoyed we were not asked to join.

So, I emailed Railey to ask what suit he was talking about. Turns out, our suspicion had unearthed a mistake in his column.

He was referring to the lawsuit that the DTH was a part of. The suit had been eventually settled in mediation in December, resulting in the release of four names of individuals fired due to their role in the scandal.

When I emailed him asking what the suit was, Railey thanked me for finding the error, saying he was fixing it online.

Here is the original column:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 10.32.41 PM

Here is the corrected version:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 11.45.03 PM

Nowhere in Railey’s corrected column mentions any error. For a man calling for enhanced transparency at his alma mater, it seems pretty duplicitous of him to not include some form of notification to readers that, in an earlier version of the story, he incorrectly stated the nature of the lawsuit his company was involved in with UNC.

I understand why he did it; no one wants an error dirtying up their story, especially when it does nothing to change the true meaning of the piece. The issue here is though is Railey is not preaching what he is practicing.

While the DTH, like every other news organization, has its flaws, there is a very strict policy on corrections, especially those online. If Katie Reilly, our managing editor, found out that I had been going online and fixing errors without notifying readers, she would have a conniption and I would most likely be fired.

It’s clear the Journal has a different policy, but if Railey really wants his words to stick next time, he better back them up with transparent actions of his own.


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