Yesterday the Washington Post, along with several other local media outlets, covered D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe‘s “state of the department” speech.
If you read the Post’s paper version this morning, you would have learned that Ellerbe is pushing ahead with his plan to change his department’s shifts from 24-hours to 12-hours and that the fire union and some firefighters aren’t too keen on that proposal.
What you would not have learned: the actual news of yesterday’s events. After Ellerbe’s speech, about 100 firefighters got up in unison, turned their backs on the chief, and walked out. They did so while wearing gear emblazoned with “D.C.F.D.,” gear that Ellerbe has tried to outlaw.
The open insubordination of dozens and dozens of firefighters appropriately found its way to the top of non-Post outlets that covered the speech. But it was oddly absent in the Post. Until today. The District’s paper of record updated the story online shortly after noon with all the salient details about the walkout, but without any type of note explaining the massive rewrite.
Now, LL does not mean to disparage the Post intern who wrote the piece. Mistakes happen to reporters young and old.
But doesn’t this kind of drastic overhaul of a story deserve some type of editor’s note explaining to readers what happened?
Apparently not, according to the Post’s Metro editor, Vernon Loeb. Since there were no errors in the first story, there’s no need for an explanation to readers, he says.
“There’s nothing wrong in what we had in print. It was a matter of emphasis,” says Loeb. “Yeah, I think, a matter of emphasis.”
What?! No, it’s not a matter of emphasis. The stuff that was added in the update wasn’t underemphasized originally, it was left out altogether. So this is a matter of being straight with your readers when you omit important facts. A sample note: “Dear readers: We totally botched the first version of this story. Here’s what we we should have written.” Boom! End of story.
But the Post just can’t seem to figure out how this whole transparency thing works when it comes to its own inner workings. After all, this isn’t the first time they’ve shat that particular bed.