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Columbia Missourian

Journalism: a discipline of verification

By Tom Warhover
August 8, 2008 | 1:00 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader:

When my wife and I talk at the end of the day, she often reports being "slammed" at work. It's a good word for the work of the Missourian newsroom on Tuesday.


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Election Day presents planned chaos - journalists know the routine and know what work needs to be done but have to wait for the final rush of reporting when the results come in.

Phyllis Chase presented chaos of a different kind.

Tuesday morning, the school district sent out a news release announcing an executive meeting (read: closed door) of the school board at noon, to be followed by a press conference at 1 p.m.

Education editor Liz Brixey quickly learned what was up: Our superintendent was stepping down.

She knew - but couldn't tell you because she didn't have the information confirmed. Nor did she know the manner of the leaving. Was Chase being forced out? Leaving for personal reasons? Or, as it turned out, retiring?

Verification is a central tenet of journalism, and a core difference in the level of trust you might give to the things you read. Anyone can blog a rumor, or assert opinion as fact. I believe you can go to a newspaper Web site and assume the information you read has been vetted.

I hear the complaints hammering away already. Newspapers get things wrong. They present certain biases. They leave out certain facts in favor of more controversy and conflict.

I concede to all of the above, but not to the degree in which the mirror might be warped.

On Tuesday, Brixey wanted to get the news first. And get it right.

She did both.

By 11 a.m., she had deployed a handful of reporters to various aspects of the story. The team published a brief item on the Web site that simply stated a meeting was about to take place. Brixey instructed reporters to send her a text message the moment Chase made an announcement.

A minute before 1 p.m., the first story appeared on Updates followed. Video of the press conference was available by mid-afternoon. The next morning, print and online readers saw a full, complete story (and you can see it now — just follow the links above).

As newspapers transition to news sources delivered in all kinds of ways, core values like verification should remain. And you, dear reader, should let us know when they don't.