Dear Reader | Real journalists report the news, not the news releases

Dear ReaderMarch 24, 2014 

Carolyn Murray, editor for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The disappearance of Heather Elvis and subsequent arrests of Tammy and Sidney Moorer in the case have sparked an emotional response across the region. At this point, finding someone who hasn’t heard of the search would require trolling the ICU unit at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center for a patient who has been comatose since December.

Nevertheless, the prosecutors office has turned down our Freedom of Information Act request for details of the search warrants that presumably document at least some of the evidence recovered to support the murder and other charges against the Moorers, saying it could hamper their investigation and hurt their chances of trying the case locally.

Why do we want to see it? It’s not because it will sell newspapers, or drive online traffic, although undoubtedly it will. It is because a key part of our role as public watchdogs in the Fourth Estate is to provide nongovernmental oversight over those in charge of protecting our liberties and spending our tax dollars.

Another priority is to find answers to questions that residents and readers may have about what’s happening in our area and we were also thwarted somewhat in that regard last week when a local company didn’t want to discuss a new venture involving female caddies in kilts, despite the fact that they’d already created a Facebook page and had promoted and advertised the new enterprise. Reporter Alan Blondin did what good reporters do: He got the information from other sources.

That brings me to coverage of high school sports. For reasons I’ll leave to the sociologists to explain, the naming of a new high school coach gets more interest than a new principal, and reporters do their best to get the name of the finalist as soon as possible so they can report on their background and share that information with readers. That’s what we pay them to do and that’s exactly what freelance writer Ian Guerin did. He worked his sources and beat the competition with the identity of the new Carolina Forest coach, even scoring two on-the-record interviews with him.

When it came time to share the news officially with the public through a media announcement, the principal of the school notified all area media of a press conference, except for Ian. Granted, he had already broken the news, but there might have been other information released about the post, or his responsibilities. Frankly, leaving him out of the loop seemed a gesture more expected on a playground than a principal’s office.

Just so we’re all clear, real journalists don’t just do what you want when you want it. That’s not how we roll.

And then there was that plagiarism accusation

Plagiarism, defined by Dictionary.com as: “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

Last week, area news organizations wrote articles and prepared broadcast reports on various angles related to Coastal Carolina University’s Chanticleer’s heading to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1993. We were certainly among them. Happily for us, freelancer and former staff member John Brasier proposed doing a story on the members of that 1993 team. It was a natural topic, one that any news organization would jump at, and indeed we did. A couple of days before his ran, an area sports website posted an article, “Where are they now,” approaching the topic from the same angle.

As soon as ours was posted, we were deluged with comments that ours had been plagiarized. That’s an accusation we take very seriously. It is, in fact, a firing offense for a staff writer and it would end a relationship with a freelancer who copied someone else’s work.

The editor who had handled the story and I immediately compared the two. Both were indeed about that 1993 team. And both had the same headline, another natural. But the writing, depth of reporting and detail made it clear that ours was no illicit copy. Both reporters had done what good journalists do: Chase down as many voices as possible on an angle that would be interesting to readers. That does not add up to plagiarism. And in fact, Brasier had written a version of his story as a column long before the other appeared online.

Tied up in cable (TV) listings

Finally, for those who have shared their frustrations about the delay in updating our daily television listings to match the changes made by local cable companies, I’m happy to say that the vendor who supplies that information has completed research, not just on Time Warner but all the channels, and updated the station numbers.

It took longer than most of you thought it should because they went the extra step to tackle all the listings.

If we still have some mis-labeled stations, I’m sure you’ll let me know. Feel free to let me know what else is on your mind, as long as you’re not calling or writing to ask me not to publish something that might make a government official look bad.

Contact CAROLYN CALLISON MURRAY at cmurray@thesunnews.com or follow her on Twitter at TSN_ccmurray.

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