Brevity is a quality that good writers and editors strive for, especially in the limited space afforded by the confines of a newspaper.
But sometimes the drive for brevity can cause problems.
A series of efforts by Tucson Citizen journalists to be brief this week left something to be desired in one news story.
The Tuesday story was about a University of Arizona teacher’s resignation after revelation of her insulting, mean-spirited and hate-laced messages on a politically conservative blogger’s Web site.
The postings of Deborah Frisch, until last week an instructor in the UA Department of Psychology, caused widespread outrage from readers and users of the blog and from the blog manager.
Our story on the issue caused more outrage after the blog manager and his supporters said we slanted our story in favor of Frisch and didn’t tell the whole story.
Critics were wrong on one count – that our story was intentionally slanted – and right on the other – that we didn’t tell the whole story – said Citizen Senior Editor/News Jennifer Boice after reviewing the circumstances behind the story.
“It’s important to note that (the reporter) had three different points of view in this story,” Boice said to me in a report.
She is correct. We quoted Frisch, the blog manager and Frisch’s boss. Telling all sides or attempting to tell all sides is a basic tenet of news reporting.
As for how we told those sides, there is an issue.
Editors decided that the story would not run on Page 1, and under our format, that put a strict limit on the amount of space available for it.
Thus the reporter had to tell a complex story in a brief way – too brief, as it turns out.
And that means we weren’t able to capture the appropriate tone for the story.
Then, in the editing process, a quotation from the blog manager was shortened and other facts were cut to make the story fit. These moves contributed to the problem of not being able to tell the story fully.
This was a “he said, she said” story of a different kind. A reading of the text online reveals that Frisch’s comments, in my opinion, were inappropriately rabid and, as I earlier described them, insulting, mean-spirited and hate-laced.
Our story should have described them that way. Instead, we “labeled them as political discourse, and it was far from your typical political discourse,” Boice said.
The key components of the blog exchange were what critics called threats by Frisch against the blog manager’s child.
To repeat the comments and responses would serve only to inflame the situation anew. So we won’t, at the risk of leaving some of you wondering.
Suffice it to say that our efforts at brevity, driven by editors’ decisions about where the story would run and how much space to allot for it, led to incompleteness in telling the story.
We take reporting the news seriously, aiming to accurately reflect not only the facts, but the tone of an issue in the news.
We fell short in this case.
Reach Michael A. Chihak at 573-4646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.