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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Register Is Checking Up on Reporters

Register Is Checking Up on Reporters

By JENNIFER BELLANTONIO

Orange County Business Journal

Jayson Blair, the disgraced New York Times reporter who was caught plagiarizing and fabricating sources and information, got editors at the Orange County Register to examine how they can improve the paper’s credibility.

The paper has come up with an “accuracy survey” that it sends to sources quoted in selected stories. The survey measures accuracy and behavior with a series of mostly yes and no questions. They include: “Was your name spelled correctly,” “Were you quoted accurately,” “Was the coverage fair” and “Were you treated professionally by the reporter?”

While such surveys have been employed by newspaper editors on and off for years, the Blair episode is likely to increase their use. Among the issues raised by The New York Times scandal was the difficulty that the subjects of stories have had in complaining to an editor or other newspaper manager.

“One of the things I was surprised about is how people felt helpless, but they didn’t bother to call in,” said Ken Brusic, Register editor and senior vice president. “It became part of the internal discussions we had about how we could become more responsive to readers.”

The Register has assigned two workers to monitor coverage at the Register and its weekly papers. One story is selected every day. The story’s reporter is required to turn over contact information for sources quoted in the piece, and the paper sends them a survey.

Sources are encouraged to return the survey within five days. The results are sent to reporters and editors involved in the story.

“We’re creating a database so we can track over time whether we’re seeing problems of accuracy or behavior of our reporters,” Brusic said. “I have great trust in all of our reporters. But these are times that editors need to ask questions.”

He said the feedback from sources so far has been positive. Many are happy to be asked their opinion, he said.

Reporters, at first, were concerned, mainly because they feared punitive measures would be taken against them. “That’s not the intent,” Brusic said. “The intent is to find out how we’re doing.”

In the past, Brusic said, the Register did similar checks through an ombudsman, but that position was eliminated because of budget constraints. Many newspapers, such as the Washington Post, employ ombudsmen who address readers’ complaints and concerns. The New York Times recently announced plans to create an ombudsman position.

John Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, said he used to send out surveys about news coverage as editor of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader but didn’t find it especially effective. “I have no objection to it in principle,” he told Times columnist David Shaw, “but it’s just not one of the arrows in our quiver right now.”

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