::Local Newspaper Runs Fabricated Article
By The Raleigh Chronicle Staff
Friday, April 6, 2007
CARRBORO - According to a local newspaper, it unwittingly ran an article on a Carrboro Police "ride-a-long" that contained some fabricated accounts as well as items that happened on a different night.
The Carrboro Citizen, a new weekly newspaper that just started up last month, ran a correction and an apology in their print edition and also on their website.
The article was written by a UNC School of Journalism student for the website CarrboroCommons.com, an online news site run by Carolina journalism students.
The Carrboro Commons website and The Carrboro Citizen newspaper had a mutual story-sharing agreement and the Citizen had run the article in their inaugural print edition on March 21st.
Kirk Ross, the editor of The Citizen, said in an e-mail comment to the Chronicle that they ran a correction and also a letter of apology as a letter to the editor from UNC Journalism Professor Jock Lauterer, the Carrboro Commons advisor.
"We learned about the problem from the [professor]," said Ross in an e-mail. "I talked to a police captain about it and we agreed that it was an unfortunate thing, but an important 'teachable moment' for the students."
"There were two parts of the story that were wrong. One didn't happen. The other took place on a previous night -- not during the ridealong," added Ross.
On the Carrboro Commons website, there was also a notice about the story.
"The story in the March 7 edition of the Carrboro Commons, Patrolling in the Passenger Seat, by Nick Sotolongo, detailing a ride-along with Carrboro Police Officer Paul Reinas, contained some story elements that were fabricated," said the posted notice on the website. The notice was "signed" by UNC Journalism Professor Jock Lauterer and student editor Robert Matteson.
According to the notice from the professor, academic disciplinary action was taken against the student at UNC.
"The Commons apologizes to Officer Reinas, the Carrboro Police Department, the readers of the Commons, as well as to the readers of the Carrboro Citizen, which reprinted the story in their March 21 inaugural edition," continued the statement.
Carrboro Citizen newspaper editor Kirk Ross seemed to indicate that he could not understand why the article needed to have the made-up components in the first place.
"One thing that's infuriating is that neither of the falsehoods were key to the story or even necessary," commented Ross. "This was a slice-of-life feature in which not much happened."
Ross said that his newspaper dealt with the issue as soon as it came to his attention in an effort to inform their readers quickly about the situation.
"I do not think that our credibility has been damaged much, in part because we dealt with it up front and quickly," he said.
The Raleigh Chronicle has also run a feature with permission from the Carrboro Commons website. The story and photo were about the Carrboro Citizen launching their new newspaper in March and it appeared online. The Chronicle did not run the Carrboro Police ride-a-long article.
Raleigh Chronicle news editor Elliott West said that while the error in judgment on the part of the UNC student in the Carrboro Police article was regrettable, he still hoped that the incident did not deter the Journalism School from its efforts online at the Carrboro Commons website.
"Everyone makes errors in judgment and while making up part of a story is simply not acceptable in news reporting, we certainly hope that the incident does not deter the UNC Journalism School from pursuing online efforts at the Carrboro Commons site," said West. "We continue to have faith in the UNC Journalism School and its students and we're sure that the student who wrote the article and others will learn from their mistakes."
"Performing hands-on news reporting while in school, even with some mistakes in the process, will always make them stronger journalists in the long run," he added. ::