A2Politico Grillin’ the Media: AAChronicle.com Asks AP To “Review” Award Given to AnnArbor.com’s Ryan Stanton
by P.D. Lesko
There’s a good ole tug o’ words going on between two local news media outlets at the moment. It’s not quite as juicy as the recent Washington, DC thriller that has WaPo big wig Ben Bradlee’s former assistant Jeff Himmelman publishing a tell-all book with allegations that cast Bradlee (not to mention Woodward and Bernstein) in a bad light. This is Ann Arbor, after all. What we have is AnnArbor.com and the AnnArborChronicle.com in a tussle over journalistic “ethics.”
Here’s the libretto in a nutshell:
In May 2011, AnnArbor.com published an investigative piece by government reporter Ryan Stanton that alleged Ann Arbor’s understaffed fire department wasn’t meeting national response time standards. The husband and wife team of Dave Askins and Mary Morgan (pictured, left) at the AnnArborChronicle.com claim in a piece posted on June 2, 2012 that “within days of publication last year, Chronicle editor Dave Askins alerted Stanton to the likely source of the factual errors in Stanton’s piece.”
Then, a few days later in May 2011 Askins published his own analysis of the same fire response data. Askins’s wife, in her June 2012 op-ed piece, writes, “Askins correctly analyzed the Ann Arbor fire department’s reports that Stanton had misinterpreted.” Yeah, well, it’s hard to read that and imagine her writing anything else, but we’ll move along.
Morgan also points out that it took AnnArbor.com’s Kontent King Tony Dearing (pictured, right) a year to “write a column acknowledging the fact that the response times reported by Stanton were inaccurate. But Dearing’s accounting of AnnArbor.com’s errors is misleading and incomplete – in part because it fails to take responsibility for obvious reporting mistakes, blaming sources instead.” Zounds. Morgan then smacks a white glove right across Dearing’s journalistic kisser: “In that respect, Dearing’s column continues a pattern of disingenuous communication by AnnArbor.com with the community it purports to serve.”
A pattern of disingenuous communication? Whoa, Nellie!
Over the past 12 months, AnnArborChronicle.com has spent a whole lotta time on email, on the phone and in face-to-face meetings with Tony Dearing desperately trying to get AA.com’s Kontent King to admit the newspaper’s reporter, Ryan Stanton (pictured below, right), had made serious mistakes in his reporting of the “response times” of the city fire department. You can only imagine how well that went.
Hold on, because the theater of the absurd gets more absurd.
Morgan then writes, “It’s worth noting that Stanton’s article about fire safety won a first-place award from the Michigan Associated Press for investigative reporting. And yes, I spewed my coffee when I heard about that….We’ve asked AP’s regional bureau chief if Michigan AP will be reviewing its award to the fire response story, but haven’t received a reply. I’m not holding my breath – AnnArbor.com is a member, and The Ann Arbor Chronicle is not.”
Eva Parziale, AP’s regional bureau chief overseeing Michigan, was close-lipped about the mess as were other officials at AP. The organization does review awards in response to “valid” concerns. The obvious question, then, is this: would Dearing’s column acknowledging the fact that the response times reported by Stanton were inaccurate qualify as a concern “valid” enough to prompt AP officials to review the award and/or withdraw Stanton’s first place prize in investigative reporting?
According to an official at American Society of Newspaper Editors, it’s frowned upon for journalists to keep awards for pieces which are found to contain significant factual errors. “It would be the responsibility of the editor to make the call, and one would imagine if a newspaper went so far as to publish an editorial admitting error, the call would be made to return the award. It’s a matter of professional ethics.”
In their June 2012 smack down of AA.com, the self-described anti-churnalists at AnnArborChronicle.com also express what can only be described as faux outrage at the bottom-feeding journalism served up in Ann Arbor by the mainstream media (beginning with AnnArbor.com, one imagines). Morgan writes:
Highlighting drama and conflict has always been a staple of mainstream media, and provocative, misleading headlines are nothing new. Some readers of AnnArbor.com like to grouse about the bottom-feeding nature of the comments left on articles, but in many cases the comments seem like simply an amped-up version of the stories themselves. When a publication trades on fomenting artificial controversy, is it really a surprise when the comments written there reflect the community’s lowest common denominator?
That kind of storytelling approach to journalism, which relies on identifying characters in conflict, comes with inherent dangers. In last month’s Chronicle milestone column, Dave Askins laid out the perils of that approach, and contrasted it with The Chronicle’s emphasis on description, analysis and explanation.
The Askins’s piece referred to above includes some revisionist history. In the 2009 and 2010 local elections, AnnArborChronicle.com created drama and hired former Ann Arbor News reporter Judy McGovern, as well as Ann Arbor Observer editor John Hilton to write it.
AnnArborChronicle.com has come rather late to the “AnnArbor.com STINKS” party. The objections to Dearing’s obtuse stonewalling also come a day late and a dollar short. Dearing has a pattern of covering up for himself and for AnnArbor.com. The habitual “disingenuous behavior” Morgan complains about is standard operating procedure for the Kontent King. According to an industry blog frequented by Michigan journalists, Dearing has a reputation among his former colleagues as a smarmy spinmeister.
Joe Skeel is the Executive Director of the Society of Professional Journalists. When asked how common it is for one news outlet to file a formal request to have the reporting award given to another news outlet re-examined he replied via email: “I can say, anecdotally, that complaints are not unheard of when it comes to our Sigma Delta Chi awards. They also aren’t commonplace. Journalism is competitive. Undoubtedly, there will be people out there that feel award-winning work isn’t worth the high designation. But, judging journalism is subjective by nature and you are bound to have people disagree with the final results. Journalism is competitive.”
Did Morgan and Askins file their complaint with the AP out of insane journalistic jealousy? A delusional conviction that they are the journalistic “accuracy police?”
If the AP were to withdraw Stanton’s award, he will be keeping company with the likes of Patricia Smith, a Boston Globe columnist whose Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors was withdrawn in 1998. Smith was forced to resign after she admitted fabricating people and quotes for her stories. Her editor at the Globe requested the award be withdrawn. Stanton would also join Janet Cooke whose Pulitzer was withdrawn in 1981 because she had fabricated her award-winning story. Cooke’s editor at the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee informed the Pulitzer committee and apologized for his part in not detecting the fabrication.
However, based on Dearing/AnnArbor.com’s “pattern of disingenuous communication by AnnArbor.com with the community it purports to serve,” as alleged by Mary Morgan, the chances that Stanton’s editor will ring up the Michigan Associated Press Office and confess that the award given to Stanton should be withdrawn could be said to be slim to none.
The more important question, of course, is whether Askins and Morgan will continue holding their breath as they wait for a phone call back from the Associated Press in response to their complaint.
Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=13976