Wisconsin State Journal Editor Responds to Charge They Unethically Deleted Key Line From Story | Wis.Community

Wisconsin State Journal Editor Responds to Charge They Unethically Deleted Key Line From Story

Last week, I criticized the Wisconsin State Journal for removing what I believe to be a key line from a story on raw milk from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) that WSJ was re-printing.

In the original article, WCIJ wrote:

For Wickert, this bill is about having the freedom to live without interference from the government. But for health officials in America’s Dairyland, it’s about potentially exposing unsuspecting citizens to disease-causing bacteria. At the crux of this debate is the age-old question: How much should government protect its citizens from possible hazards?

Howeer, when the WSJ ran the article, they deleted this sentence from the paragraph:

At the crux of this debate is the age-old question: How much should government protect its citizens from possible hazards?

John Smalley, editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, sent me the following nastygram:

Jud,

Not sure how you came to the bizarre conclusion that editing a sentence from a WCIJ story constitutes an ethics violation on our part here at the State Journal. A) The sentence removed was simply repetitive of the previous sentences; B) WCIJ gives us express permission to edit their stories in any way we need/want to. We wouldn't possibly agree to publish them under any other circumstance.

We edit stories all day, every day. We take 40 inch stories and make them 30 inch stories. we take 12 inch stories and make them 11 inch stories. It's what we do. Even our best reporters and writers have their stories edited, changed, adjusted, shortened, whatever. That's how the process works. What would make you think we'd give carte blanche' to anyone to publish something without editing?

Everything that goes into the newspaper is edited. We edit all our syndicated columns, our Letters to the Editor, again, even the top stories from our own top reporters get edited. Who gave you the impression that a newspaper should/would take a hands-off approach to editing stories? Because that's not how it works, my friend. At least not any newspaper that is doing its job.

I'm the editor here at the State Journal. Feel free to contact me anytime you feel the need to bash us in public, and maybe I can help you better understand what's going on.

John SmalleyEditorWisconsin State Journal

Here is my response:

Dear John,

Your "job" is inform your readers about the issues of the day.  With all due respect, I don't think you do your job very well.

The re-printing of the raw milk story is a great example of you not doing your job.  If a reader ONLY got their news from your newspaper they would be left with the impression that drinking raw milk is like playing Russian Roullette and that government would be foolish not to protect citizens from this risk.

The truth, which the WCIJ article failed to mention and WSJ has never presented to its readers, is that drinking raw milk is actually less risky than eating eggs and that your chance of dying from drinking raw milk is less than getting struck by lightening.  

My point is that at least  the WCIJ article stated, At the crux of this debate is the age-old question: How much should government protect its citizens from possible hazards?Unfortunately, you deleted that line, which have may prompted the reader to investigate on their own that drinking raw milk is not really that risky.

Your "reporting" on this issue is essentially lying by ommission, because your telling readers that they can get sick by drinking raw milk, without giving them the necessary context that they can get sick by eating most items at the grocery store, from spinach to eggs to meat to pasteurized milk.

It's all a matter of the relative risk.  Again, to quote the WCIJ article: At the crux of this debate is the age-old question: How much should government protect its citizens from possible hazards?

 

Published

July 6, 2011 - 2:22pm

Author

randomness