On accuracy

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This week I worked on the kind of story that keeps me up at night — very controversial and, at the same time, extremely complicated. It’s a story that you’ll see has a number of corrections on it.

I’ve been dreading writing this week’s column because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist writing about the debacle, even though it highlights a couple of screw ups on my part. But I think it’s kind of a sequel to last week’s column about the learning curve that I inevitably go through with each story that I write. 

Basically, the story is about MTN, and the loss of funding that it will receive under Rybak’s proposed budget for 2012. Aside from the nitty gritty details about the way that MTN is funded, the most controversial part of the story comes from MTN’s Executive Director Pam Colby’s belief that part of the explanation for the loss of proposed funding has to do with retaliation for some of MTN’s controversial content.

The accusation of censorship was what interested in me in the story. Freedom of speech has become a major issue for me, and one that I watch closely in the news, even if that speech that is being protected is something that I disagree with or find distasteful.

Once upon a time, when I was a freshman at Macalester College, I remember writing a paper about pornography and how it should be unlawful in our society. That was a long time ago, and I’ve since reversed my beliefs. The most recent point of controversy with MTN involved a “bump and grind” type show on Sunday nights. While I personally dislike anything that objectifies women, I think the value of freedom of expression is more important, and I agree with Colby’s defense of keeping the show on the air.

In the end, there’s no proof that there was retaliation. I contacted Johnson for a comment on all of Pam Colby’s statements and she gave her side of the story — making clear that she had nothing to do with Rybak’s budget and saying that she would never attempt retaliation.

As for Mayor Rybak, I didn’t speak with him. As often happens when I try to reach a high ranking or important person, I don’t get to talk to the actual person, I only get so speak to the public relations representative who works for that person. And I didn’t even get to interview the PR person, John Stiles. I was told to put my questions into an email form, and I was sent a written statement that really had nothing to do with the questions that I had asked..

As I mentioned before, I made some mistakes in the article. I did speak with three Minneapolis City Council members, the executive director of MTN, and the executive director of the Alliance for Community Media, but somehow I still didn’t get a clear enough picture of how the budget procedures work.

I don’t mean to make excuses for myself, but I’d just like to pose this: If the mayor or his PR person had actually had a conversation with me, he might have been helpful in clearing up the questions I had. When I’m doing an interview, it’s helpful to speak at least on the phone. Sometimes the answers to questions lead to other questions. Stiles also could have suggested that I speak to Sara Dietrich, Communications Director for the City of Minneapolis, who contacted me after the article was published and is obviously knowledgeable. Her explanation of the mechanics of the funding process is now included in the article.

Of course, it is my own responsibility to make sure that everything in my article is accurate, but I perhaps it’s in the best interest of the city to answer reporters’ questions and not blow them off. While TC Daily Planet clearly is an independent organization, we do act as a service to the public, providing information to people about local issues. Are these people really that busy that they can’t take ten minutes to speak to a reporter in order to help clear up something that is of concern to Minneapolis citizens? 

In any case, the hearing for the MTN budget happens on Wednesday, so perhaps I’ll have another shot at following the issue, this time with a bit more concise and thorough background information.