Saturday, October 6, 2007

On Wednesday, Katy Reckdahl filed an article in the TP about police breaking up a second-line parade and the arrest of two musicians:

The confrontation spurred cries in the neighborhood about the over-reaction and disproportionate enforcement by police, who had often turned a blind eye to the traditional memorial ceremonies. Still others say the incident is a sign of a greater attack on the cultural history of the old city neighborhood by well-heeled newcomers attracted to Treme by the very history they seem to threaten.

She quotes one long term resident by name and several unnamed residents as sources that newcomers dropped a dime on the parade:

But Curry and other longtime residents point fingers at Treme newcomers, who buy up the neighborhood's historic properties, then complain about a jazz culture that is just as longstanding and just as lauded as the neighborhood's architecture.

Any evidence in the story that newcomers are to blame? Nope. Any attempt to even define who these newcomers are? Nope. Any research that the demographics have changed in the Treme? Not in this article.

The next day, Reckdahl filed this article, which ran on the front page, about the good character of the two musicians arrested and their plans to plead innocent:

In many ways, the Police Department could not have nabbed two musicians more reflective of the neighborhood. Part of a large extended musical family, the brothers were raised in Treme by their mother Vana Acker. And the men are determined to give today's children a Treme-style cultural education. "If you're around music, like we were in the 6th Ward, you're going to be a musician," Andrews said.

So, one more day of reporting and not a single shred of evidence that this is actually a conflict between newcomers and the old residents. But Reckdahl takes one more crack at the story in the next day's metro section. The musicians plead innocent and neighborhood leaders again denounce the newcomers:

Speaker after speaker also described the turnover in population they've seen, as outsiders have bought an increasing number of houses in old Treme, where renters and homeowners often lived side by side for generations.

Neighbors believe that some of the newcomers triggered Monday's police response with 911 calls. Police said they were required to respond to the complaint and considered the celebration to be a parade that requires a city permit.

Again, after three days of covering this story, we have nothing but unsubstantiated hearsay and no attempt to verify this facts.

John McIntryre, a copy editor at the Baltimore Sun, recently listed the red flags that make copy editors take a closer look at a story:

Exaggeration. Any claim that something is the first, the only, the largest of its kind is automatically flagged for inspection. Superlatives are not to be trusted.

Anonymous sources. Readers wonder about stories with anonymous sources, and with good reason. By definition, an anonymous source has something to hide. It may be a good reason — and at The Sun, there are two legitimate reasons: apprehension of physical harm if the source is identified and apprehension of significant economic harm. Reporters are not supposed to grant anonymity casually, just to spare someone embarrassment.

Unsupported statements. Single-source stories make editors sit bolt upright. Anything that comes only from a single source — a person, a document — without support, without independent confirmation of its factual accuracy, can’t be trusted. Has The Sun been burned by stories with single-source information in the past? Oh yes.

Quality of the support. Who or what actually backs up the source? Is the person a figure of credibility? Does the person verifying the source have an interest in the statement? Have reliable reference works been cited? Better not mention Wikipedia.

Copy editors as well as reporters live by the motto of the Chicago’s City News Bureau: IF YOUR MOTHER SAYS SHE LOVES YOU, CHECK IT OUT.

In the Reckdahl articles we have anonymous sources, unsupported statements and questionable quality of support (a random resident isn't exactly an authority). Did the copy editors raise concerns? Reckdahl might be right that "newcomers" are to blame, but her articles doesn't try to answer that question.


ashley said...


I typically support Reckdahl, but she should try to dig deeper. There would be a whole story on "newcomers to Treme".

K2.0 said...

"Neighbors believe that some of the newcomers.." Could it BE more vague???

Reporting on trouble isone thing, creating it with sloppy reportage another.