Summit newspapers snarled in scandal
Three national media figures have gained notoriety in the past year on charges of playing fast and loose with the truth: Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg of the New York Times, and Jack Kelly of USA Today.But media disasters hit closer to home April 9 with the announcement of the forced resignation of Summit County Independent Daily News’ part-owner and sales representative Ethan Harris. Harris was responsible for printing an erroneous article reporting that Jane Stebbins, a reporter for the competing Summit Daily News, had been arrested on a DUI charge. The article did not name Stebbins, but it did show a picture of her face with a black bar over her eyes. The report was false.Summit Independent Publisher Kristie Hannon said that several anonymous sources called the Independent with misinformation about Stebbins. Apparently, Harris decided to run the story without checking the truth of those reports with any officials.”We’re short-staffed, young, and basically a couple of friends coming together and starting a newspaper,” Hannon said. “Unfortunately it was bad judgement on (Harris’) part. He’s not a journalist and not a writer, and he made a call late at night (to run the story).”Tara Flannigan, former editor of the Vail Trail, resigned from her position as editor at the Independent, although Hannon reports that Flannigan may stay on as a reporter.Although newspaper news in Summit County may seem like a very local story, the incident was widely reported.The story appeared as an item in a media news column distributed by the L.A. Times/Washington Post news wire, a service that goes to 644 newspapers in 64 countries. It also appeared in the Romenesko report an acclaimed nationwide newsletter that deals with issues in the media.In addition to asking Harris to resign, Hannon said she is looking for an editor to closely monitor the editorial department at the newspaper and bring a new level of discipline to the Independent.”We have worked long and hard for 18 months to establish ourselves as a credible source of news and information in Summit County,” Hannon said. “We’ve done some excellent reporting and we’ve broken important stories. We hope that our readers will give us the chance to prove that we’re a better newspaper than this incident suggests. Summit County is a very forgiving place, and I believe that people will realize that this is an isolated incident.”
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