Monday, July 28, 2008

Lack of attribution a problem at the Springfield Republican

Someone commented today on my most recent story about the Open Pantry, in which I decried reporter Stephanie Barry's coverage of the OP's press conference where director Kevin Noonan spoke. She used phrases like "Noonan's detractors" and "homeless advocates" without ever attributing their opinions to any individual.

At the time I thought (and it may still be true) that what I saw as the article's bias stemmed from a negative attitude toward Noonan from city officials that the reporter picked up on and reflected.

Today, though, my commenter pointed me toward a Sunday story by Barry on district attorneys' salary that makes me wonder what's going on at the Republican.

Barry's story is coming along fine; she talks about salary disparities across the state and then lists the names, job descriptions and salaries of Hampden County's assistant district attorneys. Then she goes back to the last name on her list, Assistant DA Maria F. Rodriguez-Maleck.
Of Bennett's top 10 earners, only Rodriguez's salary raised any eyebrows among courthouse insiders. Most agreed the remainder had paid their dues with time and service, or both.

Though no one would speak publicly, several said Rodriguez - who came with Bennett from his private sector office when he was first elected in 1990 - has virtually no caseload and has never tried a case. Her function is largely, if not solely administrative, according to other lawyers and court employees.

Bennett dismissed those criticisms as unfair, arguing workload isn't measured solely by caseload.
"Courthouse insiders," "most agreed," "no one would speak publicly," -- all without attribution, all inuendos.

If Barry couldn't get anyone to speak on the record about Rodriguez, she shouldn't have written about her at all. Don't we have the right to face our accusers?

What could Barry have done instead, if she wanted to follow up on these leads? She could have investigated the caseload of each ADA on her own, to see how the caseloads compared. She could have found out more about Rodriguez' duties. She could have talked to Rodriguez herself. But if she did any of these things, it didn't show in her article..

Some of you may have followed the soul searching of the New York Times after its too-lenient attribution policy allowed the Bush Administration to lead us into the Iraq War. Obviously the Springfield Republican is no New York Times. But here in our community, the fate of an agency that serves the poor and the reputation of a public servant matter. They deserved better than they received.

I will be keeping my eye on the Springfield Republican from now on, and I'm asking my local readers to do the same.

1 comment:

Mike Dobbs said...

This is very common in journalism today although I don't do it as it's a device that allows people to make a snide comment without being responsible.

This is why the Republican is viewed as a paper with an agenda. I would suspect that Kevin Noonan is on their list....maybe Bill Bennett should look over his shoulder as well.