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Friday, May 21, 2010

NJ Newsroom caught by Dan in an ethical lapse?

NJ Newsroom is a highly-respected online news source.

When NJ Newsroom posted an item yesterday on the recent outbreak of gang violence in Plainfield, it caught my eye while preparing the daily CLIPS blog (see here).

The highly-respected website devoted to New Jersey news -- featuring some of the state's best journalists as well as wide-ranging OpEd opinions -- has not previously, to my memory, ever done a story on Plainfield, nor can I recall a story of such 'street-corner' detail.

It is far more likely you would find a carefully thought out piece on an initiative by the governor or the Legislature, with its implications statewide carefully laid out.

But a run-of-the-mill gang story (after all, Plainfield is hardly the only town with gang issues)? Most unusual.

Scanning the story before putting the link up on the CLIPS blog, it did not seem to add anything to previous coverage in the Courier (see here) -- in fact, it had an identical quote from Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig as reported by Mark Spivey in his original Courier story --
From the Courier: "They don't seem to care," Hellwig said of the gangs' attitudes toward the increased presence of law enforcement. "We've been trying to keep the peace down there, because there's certainly been some things brewing." (see story here)
and from NJ Newsroom --
"They don't seem to care," said city Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig. "We've been trying to keep the peace down there, because there's certainly been some things brewing." (story archived here)
It is not unusual for different media outlets to cover the same story (in fact the Ledger covered this one also -- see here), however competing media take great pains to strive for a slightly different perspective, or additional telling details, and there certainly wouldn't be word-for-word identical quotes unless all the reporters had been in a press conference or group interview.

What caught my eye about the NJ Newsroom piece was that it DID NOT have any additional information or distinctive angle. So, I decided to quickly reference the Courier article alongside it and move on, leaving this entry --
Gangs: "Bystanders caught in middle of Plainfield gang feud" -- Story makes NJ Newsroom website; contrast with original Courier article here.
When I got back to my computer yesterday evening, I had been tipped that the story was taken down. The page I had left open all day without refreshing displayed the story as originally posted.

Screenshot of NJ Newsroom's original posting of the story.

This allowed me to capture the original text as posted on the NJ Newsroom site, which I have archived here.

Upon refreshing the original page, I got this error message --

Screenshot of error message when reloading original page.

Now, I have a high regard for the NJ Newsroom folks and dropped them an email early this morning suggesting they create a 'corner' on their website where they could post corrections or clarifications for the reasons stories are either modified or taken down altogether. I hope they take my suggestion seriously.

Here is the text of my email --
Good morning,

NJ Newsroom ran a story yesterday AM on recent gang activity in Plainfield.

I aggregate links to news stories of interest to Plainfield readers on my blog CLIPS, and posted a link to the story in my usual fashion.

As I scanned the item preparatory to putting up a link, it seemed very similar to my recollection of the Courier News item "Three injured in Plainfield shootings as gang feud escalates" of 5/17/2010, and I put a link to their story alongside the one to yours. (The story was actually broken on my local news blog, Plainfield Today, early Monday AM as part of a roundup of police news --
"3 shot over weekend, pedestrian struck, plus unremarked bias incident")

I was told by someone yesterday afternoon that your story had been taken down, and that Plainfield police director Martin Hellwig had confirmed that no one from NJ Newsroom had contacted him about the story, though there was a direct quote in your piece.

As a news junkie (and retired public information officer for the City of Plainfield), I have had the highest regard for NJ Newsroom since its inception and admire both the news stories and the wide variety of opinions expressed on issues of concern to New Jerseyans.

This experience, however, has left me feeling uneasy. In print media, there might be a correction or a small notice about what had gone awry. Scanning your site, I don't find somewhere that a reader could turn for clarifications or corrections or admissions that a mistake or ethical lapse had been made.

I hope you will consider a little 'corner' for such, so that your deservedly good reputation will remain of the highest order.

Dan Damon

Meanwhile, a Google search for a text string from the NJ Newsroom story shows that it is still online in its original form on at least two other websites as of the time of this writing: Hoboken City Guide (see here) and The Black Urban Times (see here).

We'll see what happens.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Witness here the problem with sites that lazily pool information from other sources without attribution to another outlet because of fears that would weaken their "brand." Oh well, copying from someone else's paper is always much more expedient than doing the math yourself. Well done, Ms. Cruz.