The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Spectator recognizes error

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With the end of the semester rapidly approaching, The Spectator has spent the week planning and preparing for its last issue of the semester.

Typically, the final issue of the semester is something we’ve all come to look forward to. I’ll be honest, it’s usually one of our “fun” issues of the year. We highlight the best sports photography of the semester. We pull out the stories we’ve been dying to do but haven’t had time for. And in this, the editorial and opinion section, we highlight the semester’s top police blotters and allow the university to see the smiling faces of the staff that puts this paper together twice a week. I wanted in on the fun as well; I originally was planning to write a light-hearted column about what we all should be sure to do during our college years.

My plans changed Tuesday afternoon when I received an e-mail from a UW-Eau Claire student, notifying our staff that he was falsely quoted in an article in the Dec. 3 issue of The Spectator.

In fact, he never had been given the opportunity to be quoted; the freelance reporter who covered the story, Megan McGinn, did not speak to him.

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This is not a fun column, but it is an important one.

In the story “Smokers face serious, deadly health risks,” senior Logan Nordin was quoted as saying, “It’s harder to run further than a block without feeling winded.”

He also was reported to have said he spends about $10 per week on cigarettes.

Nordin never said these things to McGinn.

McGinn was contacted after The Spectator was notified of the falsified information.

McGinn said the interviewing she did for the article was done via AOL Instant Messenger with another source. McGinn asked the source to ask others about their smoking habits. The source falsely gave McGinn information from Nordin.

The scenario raised eyebrows and red flags in our office.

First, as a staff, we have some owning up to do. Ultimately, mistakes like this are The Spectator’s responsibility to catch. For that, we would like to apologize first and foremost to Logan Nordin.

A person’s name and his or her word are invaluable. At the end of the day, people should have ultimate control over how they are presented. Nordin’s voice and name were used without consent, something for which there is no reasoning to ever do.

Second, we have some explaining to do about our role in coaching this freelance writer.

For clarification, freelance writers are individuals who submit articles or columns under the guided coaching of our paid Spectator staffers, including myself.

McGinn worked with The Spectator’s Money/Health editor, Sara Boyd. Boyd has worked throughout the semester with a number of freelance writers, and as such, has developed a system of checking in and giving feedback that, in most cases, was found to be effective. In this case, Boyd asked McGinn to come to our office for coaching. McGinn informed Boyd she was too busy to do this and would rather get pointers via e-mail. Boyd in turn gave McGinn a list of potential sources for the story. She suggested talking to smokers on campus, face-to-face.

Given this coaching, and the way information was presented to editors at The Spectator, we had every faith that these suggestions were followed. Unfortunately, they were not. The biggest issue is fabricating a source. Secondary issues also are raised by this incident. Reporters should not be conducting any interviews through the Internet. The Spectator’s guidelines already have abolished e-mail interviews; however, we felt the need to revise the current language of our guidelines to further require our reporters to conduct all interviews in person or over the telephone, unless approved by the editor in chief.

We believe that despite this incident our freelance program is important to both The Spectator and the university. Ultimately, The Spectator is a learning lab for aspiring journalists. This is the time when we can explore, stretch and grow as writers. This opportunity should not be blocked off to a chosen few. Rather, it should be open to all capable writers, of which there are certainly more on this campus than open Spectator staff positions.

What the Spectator staff can and will do from here on out is fully screen our potential freelance writers. Our current system admittedly leaves us open to being taken advantage of. When recruiting freelance writers in the future, we will get more in-depth information about our writers, such as previous experience and writing examples.

Additionally, The Spectator will take a more active role in training our freelance writers. Starting next semester, the staff of The Spectator will take more time to fully explain the expectations and guidelines freelance writers must follow as representatives of The Spectator.

This was a time when we were forced to look in on ourselves, much like other media outlets have had to do recently when confronted with the news that reporters had delivered false information.

Ultimately, what this incident has given us is a burning reminder of what not to do. It is our sincere hope that it never happens again.

The Spectator learned the importance of feedback from the campus community. Had Nordin never contacted us, we never would have known there was a problem. We strive for excellence in everything we do, and it is our hope that readers will help us maintain this standard. Call us on it when we fall short. Let us know when we’ve done well.

We hope that by catching these errors early and by attempting to reinforce The Spectator’s standards with our writers, that we can continue to be a source of campus news that Eau Claire can depend on.

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Spectator recognizes error