• September 22, 2019

Integrity above all - The Trail Blazer: News

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Integrity above all

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Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 12:46 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2019.

All a newspaper can offer the public is its integrity, and when a mistake is made, transparency.

The Morehead News, our hometown newspaper, published Wednesday a page one public acknowledgment and apology for lifting original reporting from a Trail Blazer story without attribution. 

The offense came during what I consider the best semester-start the Trail Blazer, Morehead State’s student paper since 1927 (now only online), has had since I took over as faculty advisor.

Celene Dorsey, the student who wrote the original story, magnificently wrote her way into a summer internship in Menifee County. Trail Blazer editor Julianna Leach had just completed a summer internship at The Daily Independent in Ashland and was awaiting word from the Lexington-Herald Leader on the publication of a story she pitched, and it was. Managing editor Daneyl Tackett had interned at The Morehead News. Those three represent just a glimpse of success stories out of our convergent media program.

So, the offense was a bit of a downer.

For full disclosure, I worked for 25 years as the chief photographer, and later as a state editor, for The Daily Independent, whose editor has regional responsibilities over The Morehead News. Since leaving the Ashland paper, I’ve worked as a regular freelancer covering sports and politics. Simply put, money exchanges hands. 

As faculty advisor to The Trail Blazer, we had a working relationship with both papers that was to the benefit of all. Trail Blazer stories could be used in both papers, as long as students were credited for their work. Even better, some students were paid. (That’s all in past tense because we don’t know how things will work going forward.)

With both feet planted firmly in academia and journalism, and both areas having their drawbacks, a gratifying sweet spot can be found when both are done right. But, one of them went wrong.

As word spread through the revered Breckinridge Hall, students started asking questions. My responses, to their delight, aren’t fit for public consumption and I apologize to our neighbors on Elizabeth Avenue for unspeakable words they may have heard while fielding phone calls.

To be certain our outrage was justified, blind comparisons were made by faculty without any knowledge of the situation and samples were sent to former editors and colleagues. The verdicts were unanimous and I’ll spare the gory details transmitted from my journalism family. (Higher education tends to be much more polite, even when the knives are out.)

As old-school journalists will tell you, there are no reasons or excuses. 

To my relief, The Morehead News and the regional editor handled the situation with full transparency.  The page one notice and the promise of an apology call to Celene proves that. This gives hope that news organizations will stick to the standards that have kept us relevant in turbulent times.

More importantly, and of no surprise to me, our students handled it as any professional would. Simply put, Julianna’s leadership and the quality of student staff work is impeccable and is to be respected. 

This gives me hope for both higher education and journalism.