A welcome from our new home at North Charles Street
As we here at the Spirit of Jefferson prepared to move to our new offices at 114 N. Charles St., I hurriedly penned an editor’s note that relied on two faulty assumptions — the reliability of my memory and my sense of direction. As a result, I got two things wrong — about where we were and where we were going.
The second error I corrected in the paragraph above. The Spirit’s new home is on North Charles Street, not West Charles Street. Mea culpa.
As for the first error: the Spirit was not, it turns out, housed at its George Street location from the very beginning of its publishing history. The paper moved to that location in 1915 and enjoyed a 98-year history there. Still impressive.
With the publication of this edition, the Spirit is now housed in its new office on North Charles.
The subject of errors has been much on my mind since the shooting on Dec. 14 of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. On that day, I was driving to Morgantown to get my son and listening to the reporting of the event as it unfolded.
As we all know now, so much of what we were told initially turned out to be wrong. The shooter was not 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, but his younger brother, Adam. There were not two shooters and the first victim, Lanza’s mother, Nancy, was not a teacher in the school. And Lanza was not buzzed into the school by staff who knew who he was; he stormed his way in.
While a debate rages in Washington D.C. about whether to enact new gun control legislation and what form it would take, for the media the conversation might better be about how it could have gotten so many details so wrong and what should it do to prevent such a failure in the future. Clearly, the events in Newtown were a lost opportunity for newspapers and other media outlets to demonstrate authoritativeness instead of stampeding to be first with a hashtag.
In a recent piece in the New York Times, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan recommends that the way to not be swept up in the “maelstrom of Twitter” is for reporters and editors to require named sources, verification and transparency. On each point, I agree with her, especially on the matter of being transparent. There is no shame in reporting that you don’t know a piece of information. Far better to report that you don’t know something for certain than to report something that you don’t know for certain.
Sullivan also recommends that news organizations exercise a willingness to “cede the front of the pack,” that is, not to rush to be first with a story. She’s right. There’s another way to lead, and it’s not by being first; it’s by being best.