Paper works hard to be accurate, but don’t take our word for it

Friday, October 26, 2007 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 4:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — I’ve read a few police reports. I haven’t read any like the one Officer Donald Weaver compiled on state Sen. Chuck Graham. For those who haven’t been following, Graham was arrested a week ago on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Weaver’s report has all the critical stuff of an airplane novel: powerful figures, rising tensions, hidden strategies and more. The conflict begins when Graham declines to take a Breathalyzer and culminates in a standoff between Weaver and hospital staff and Graham’s attorney over a bottle of urine.

The Missourian’s coverage synthesizes the facts but doesn’t attempt to capture the voice or attitude that comes out in Weaver’s recounting. It doesn’t need to because I can simply download the whole thing and judge for myself.

Instead, reporters Alia Bakeer and Justin O’Neil sought to understand others’ perspectives. Graham’s attorney said there were inaccuracies in Weaver’s story, though he didn’t give specifics. University Hospital, through its spokeswoman, defended its employees — even, presumably, after hospital security guards tried to stop Weaver from “securing the evidence.”

My point, dear reader, is that you might look at both to find a better picture. In years past, the Missourian put original source material in the paper when there was enough space and the story warranted. Today, on, it’s easier, and reporters are encouraged to include press releases, official reports, databases and more.

It doesn’t lessen the need for journalists. These are simply more ways for you to drill down into an issue. I want you to trust the journalism done in the Missourian but not just because I ask. Check for yourself.

On Thursday, the Missourian published another bit of original source material. A day before, reporter Molly Obermeier finished a story describing the MU School of Journalism’s funding for its centennial celebration in September.

The major point of contention was that the Missourian story said the J-school had no budget for its centennial. Suzette Heiman, director of planning and communications at the school, said there is a budget — the general budget for the school.

In an e-mail, Heiman listed more than a dozen points she said were misleading or inaccurate.

On another day, I would have met with the assigning editor and the managing editor and gone over each phrase in light of Heiman’s allegations. We would have determined what were worth corrections or clarifications and discarded the rest. Instead, Heiman’s e-mail was run in its entirety.

Why? I wanted to let you decide for yourself. In doing so, you can see competing views of what essentially is the same set of information. A dozen years ago someone wise said: Facts can’t frame themselves. People do.

One reader said the e-mail showed how stories get “tilted”; another said the allegations showed the journalism school’s “spin,” not inaccuracies by the reporter.

We could have been more precise in the language in certain instances. In other places, Heiman and I simply disagree. The point: Don’t trust me. Check for yourself.

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