YOUR SOURCE FOR TRUTH

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

C'mon Pete, the Rim Country deserves better

EDITORIAL

By Jim Keyworth
Gazette Blog Editor

Believe it or not, this is a very painful editorial to write. Painful because some of you will say, “There he goes again.” Painful because I like Pete Aleshire and I think he’s a really good writer.

But enough is enough – and Pete’s front page story headlined “ASU campus in Payson now ‘most probable’” in the Friday, May 7 edition of your Payson Roundup is way more than enough.

Let me begin by encouraging you to go to payson.com, the Roundup’s website, to read the article for yourself. But as you read, keep this in mind – one of the cardinal sins of journalism is a one-source story. A one-source story is a story that only uses one person as its sole source of information, a story that only quotes one person.

What’s wrong with a one-source story? You can’t trust it because it assumes that the one source knows all and sees all and is being truthful. It doesn’t reinforce or prove or confirm what that one person said. Therefore it can mislead readers, especially those who don’t know the difference – which is most people without a journalism background.

I remember my days at the Roundup when we had a real editor – Katy Whitehouse. If one of us reporters got lazy and dared to turn in even a two-source story, we got it back in the face.

And don’t try to give her an excuse. “I was on deadline. There wasn’t any time to contact anyone else.” “I tried to get other sources, but nobody returned my phone calls.” Katy would hold the story for the next issue if necessary or scrap it altogether, but it wasn’t going in the paper with just one or two sources.

Back then, WorldWest Publishing, the Lawrence, Kan. –based company that owns the Roundup, employed a veteran journalist named Bob Nordyke who spent his time on the road traveling between the company’s dozen or so papers to make sure that journalistic standards were upheld. We reporters lived in fear of his visits, and one of Nordyke’s pet peeves was the one-source story.

I was told by a former Roundup employee that a year or two ago Nordyke lost his job – a victim of the economy. If that is true and he wasn’t replaced, the Roundup is stuck without a real editor (Tom Brossart is a photographer by trade) and without any other system of checks and balances.

And so Payson Mayor Kenny Evans can now claim that he has $500 million – yes, that’s $500 million – in pledges to build a four-year college campus in Payson, up from $70 million a few weeks ago – even as one of the lead investors is killed in a plane crash.

The story contains incredible but unsubstantiated statements like:

“A group of more than two dozen people representing billions (yes, billions) in assets gathered two weeks ago…”

“I would say the ASU folks were wildly impressed by the group,” said Evans.

Why didn’t Pete talk to one of the ASU “folks”? Why didn’t he track down one of the group representing billions?

My friends, I hope Kenny Evans has what he claims, but excuse my skepticism. Not only is $500 million a hell of a lot of money, but Aleshire doesn’t ask him to provide any kind of verification, much less attempt to find a second and third source that would corroborate his story.

The average reader will say, “But it’s all hush hush. Only Kenny can talk at this point.” To which I say, BS. Good journalists can find people who will talk.

Katy Whitehouse and Bob Nordyke would have said, “If nobody will talk, the story doesn’t run.”

I have been following Pete’s ASU stories with increasing incredulity. Because I haven’t been able to corroborate what he writes. And Mogollon Connection editor Matt Brabb has had the same problem. If ASU officials say anything, it’s very generic and muted and noncommittal. If The Arizona Republic writes about satellite campuses in rural Arizona, it’s other towns.

When it was $70 million, I shook my head in disbelief. Now that it’s $500 million, why isn’t Pete asking, “Show me the money?” Or at least, “Let me talk to one of your donors.”

If what Kenny is saying is accurate, what is unfolding is truly a wondrous thing for our community. I honestly hope it is.

But Pete has a job to do, and that job is to do everything in his power to get and tell the whole story. Because if this campus doesn’t get built, a lot of people have been blindfolded and led down a dead-end road.

In an article entitled “Journalism 101: 16 Things You Learn In J-School” on blog.journalistics.com, Jeremy Porter tells would-be journalists:

“…there is more than one side to a story. Go to great lengths to get information from all sides.”

He also urges them not to believe everything they hear:

“If it’s your byline, it’s your job to fact check. Don’t believe those stats sent to you by a PR firm. And don’t believe every quote you get. Do the legwork, verify the information…”

Like I said, Pete Aleshire is a very good writer. But until he starts adhering to the fundamental principles and precepts of his trade, he’s not a real journalist.

The residents of the Rim Country deserve better.

3 comments:

Dan Varnes said...

Well done, Mr. Keyworth.

You opened my eyes to that poorly researched "puff piece" by Mr. Aleshire.

After I first read it, I just let it slide by as more "pro-college" propaganda, but your blog opened my eyes to the truth of the matter.

Few people can even comprehend what a billion dollars represents. If that figure isn't a tip-of as to the exaggerations that were printed, I don't know what is.

Damn fine article. Thank you.

Mrs. L said...

My sentiments exactly, and also one of the many reasons I no longer subscribe to the Roundup. When friends rave about the soon-to-be ASU campus here, I tell them I will believe it when it actually happens.

Anonymous said...

I left this post on the Groundup blog also but it will no doubt be deleted. Thanks Mrs. L for the heads up. Great article Jim, as usual.
Here's the post: I included a link to the Gazette:)


AnnaDean (Dean Shields) says…

http://rimcountrygazette.blogspot.com…

Thanks Kathy, it's a good, solid editorial. We are only getting one version of any of the things Aleshire writes. And I agree with the part about the editor, I think he spends more time taking pictures than editing the paper. It seems to me the Roundup is letting Pete Aleshire run things instead of actually letting the editor and publisher run it. And I will also post this to the Gazette because no doubt the Groundup will delete it:)