Republic's Memo of the Week:
No, make that Memo of the Month! The author is Pam Johnson, the managing editor of the Arizona Republic.
Date: March 13, 1996
Two Metro staffers -- Peter Corbett and Doug Snover fo the Scottsdale Bureau -- have been suspended for one month without pay for a serious breach of judgement.
Here's what happened:
Snover wrote an item for the Feb. 7 Around Town column (see attached) about a "legend that might not stand up to investigation, but it's too good to disprove." The legend was that Jomax Road was named after two "ladies of the night," Josephine and Maxine.
The unverified legend was false. When complaints and a request for correction were received, Snover and Corbett wrote an "update," (also attached) rather than correcting their error. The "update" concedes light-heartedly that the road was named after a now-85-year-old woman by her late husband and that "we smirched her honor."
While our policy is for all metro corrections to be OK'd by the metro editor, this correction in the guise of an update wasn't brought to Steve Knickmeyer's attention.
The elderly woman we called a prostitute has retained a lawyer. We have no defense. Our report was untrue; indeed, we admit we didn't investigate it. Out "correction" simply made matters worse -- compounding the libel, using the woman's full name and making light of the situation.
What can we learn from this debacle?
First, we don't print a "legend" -- or anything else, for that matter -- without investigating its authenticity. Our credibility depends on accuracy.
Second, corrections are never to be taken lightly. We maintain the trust of our readers not by never making mistakes -- there are going to be errors in a daily newspaper -- but by correcting our errors fully and as quickly as possible.
Third, there are reasons for most rules. Had this "retraction" been run by the metro editor, it never would have been published.
Fourth, a mandate to produce a lively column is not a license to libel.
Fifth, there are no unimportant areas of the newspaper. A Community column seen by only a small portion of our readers can hold the seeds of disaster.
Snover is being disciplined for shoddy reporting and lack of judgement; Corbett, for poor judgement. After the month's suspension, Corbett will mobe to the copy desk and Snover's position will be evaluated.
The suspensions are effective today; Corbett's replacement will be named as soon as possible. Richard Ruelas will fill in at the Scottsdale Bureau during Snover's suspension.
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