• Breakthrough Ideas Team

Lighting Up Local Media

By Kathleen Murphy

In the HBO Series Newsroom, when the fictional network ACN is faced with a difficult decision, the unapologetically old school head of the news department, Charlie Skinner argues for the integrity of the network, saying: “If a news outlet doesn't have credibility, it doesn't matter what else it has."

Local news could use a Charlie Skinner right about now.

Yesterday, the Daily Herald, a local paper that covers the Chicago suburbs, took a news article that was written by a reporter from another paper, put their own writer’s name on it, along with a different title and sent it to print.

The reporter who actually wrote the article is named Kelli Duncan and she works for The Northwest Herald. I pointed it out to her in an email yesterday morning, and asked what was going on.

Kelli replied: “Thank you for bringing this to my attention there must have been some kind of mix-up when they published my story. Cassie Buchman (who’s name was on the story) is a colleague of mine, but she did not work on the story with me.”

The Daily Herald later went back - no doubt after hearing from Ms. Duncan - and corrected the byline online.

I contacted the Daily Herald about the article last night. Editor Jim Slusher told me “an editor confused the bylines…”

Bylines are important to reporters. If this was an editorial mistake, it is a pretty big one. And we have to consider that it’s possible other articles running in the Daily Herald may be lacking in accuracy.

Such as this article, published on Tuesday, February 2. Front page, above the fold with a headline that reads: Violent Crime Down in Naperville.

Sounds good, right? The problem is, it isn’t true. A Naperville City Councilman,who has access to the data, put out the real numbers.

While the murder and arson rates in Naperville remained the same, armed robbery increased by 15%, theft increased by 91%, Sex offenses increased 13%, Domestic violence increased 24%, and the list goes on and on.

It’s unclear why the Daily Herald would run with this headline. Given the facts, it completely misrepresents what’s happening in Naperville. Not to mention, violent crime on the rise in a suburb that was once consistently ranked among the top places in the nation to live and raise a family seems like a MUCH bigger story.

Speaking of a bigger story, we are now going to a segment, I like to call: What If One Set of Standards Applied to Everyone?

As a reasonable person, you might expect that there is a set of standards that is applied to everyone in a position of public trust - or at least that the rules apply within a certain range. That is not the case.

The media has the power to “gatekeep” - decide which news you will see - and to “frame” - decide how information will be presented to you. They decide who they want you to forgive and who they want you to demonize.

The Daily Herald put another reporter’s name on Kelli Duncan’s work. That is the textbook definition of plagiarism. As a rational person, you might think, “It was just a mistake. We don’t need to make such a big deal out of this.” I tend to agree with you. But I was told by a reporter from the Chicago Press Corp, such mistakes are unforgivable and extremely newsworthy.

During the 2020 primary, I was the Communication Director for Jeanne Ives in her race against Democrat Sean Casten. We had a team that wrote fundraising emails. While reviewing one, I suggested they add a fact that was cited in a Chicago Tribune article. When I reviewed the final draft, I didn’t catch that the verbiage of that one line hadn’t been changed in the new context of the letter. It was my mistake.

After the fundraising email went out, I got a call from a Chicago Tribune reporter - Bill Ruthhart about that one line. He was writing a story about it and it was clear his angle was to shoot down my candidate’s integrity. Apparently, it was such a big deal that the Chicago Tribune had pulled this reporter off Presidential Race coverage to write this story. When I pushed back, Ruthhart made it clear to me that he took this very seriously and that it was absolutely newsworthy. A mistake or an oversight was no excuse. So, I owned it. Publicly. And his article was a hit piece.

If one set of standards applied to everyone the Chicago Tribune would be unearthing their top man from whatever beat he’s covering now and bringing him in as hot as they did in Jeanne’s race.

But the fact is everyone is not treated equally in the press. The media is not going to apply the same standards to themselves that they apply to a local Republican candidate.

Some people call it selective amplification. Some call it a double standard. Whatever you call it, it’s anything but objective. And in 2021, there don’t seem to be any Charlie Skinner’s left arguing for the integrity of the news.

It’s something to keep in mind, next time you pick up your local paper…

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