Thursday, November 8, 2007

Addressing the criticism: in print and online.

So, we all see the elephant in the room, so let's address it. I must defend my integrity that has been assaulted by the Union and others, so let me defend myself more specifically than my article does.

First off, that story was right to go into opinion. News was never an option as they don't allow those who write opinion to cover news. It's just a rule at the Herald.

While I was ambivalent about posting my anonymous source information earlier, considering the fact that Critical Badger and Mr. Opsal have no problem doing this, I may as well, explain further.

In the story, I really only explicitly refer to allegations made by "Jorge" and so, as it appears on the surface, seems entirely suspect. However, what was not mentioned was that the way I was able to contact Jorge was through another custodial employee, one who is a legal worker, who has worked at the union for a long time (at least 10 years) who detailed the allegations "Jorge" made and added his own dealings with "Jorge's" disability coverage, which at the time, he said Union officials tried to deny him the disability because they had "not received any paperwork." When this custodian heard it, he says went with "Jorge" to a woman Jorge said helped him fill out the initial paperwork and asked her if she did indeed do this. When she said she did, the custodian brought this to Union officials, who allegedly "found" this paperwork and went ahead with his disability check. The reason I did not print these claims is because I didn't get confirmation from "Jorge" as I forgot to ask. A journalist's honest mistake.

Most of the claims I heard about worker mistreatment didn't just come from Jorge, it came also from this anonymous custodial source. This person also put me in contact with another worker at the union who claimed to have been assaulted by co-workers on the job, but when asked for police, they allegedly either were not contacted or a supervisor (the same one in Jorge's story) switched the story, claiming that the allegedly assaulted co-worker was in fact that one doing the attacking. I attempted (and am still attempting) to contact this person to get their side of the story, but when I initiated this contact around three months ago, I got their spouse on the phone, who informed me they were initiating legal action against the union. When I mentioned what I had heard from my source, I was told, "and you know what? It's probably about five times worse than you mentioned. It wasn't one incident, it was a few years of stuff that was going on." So, to clarify, it wasn't just Jorge, it was a few months of talking to my source at the union, trying to get ahold of Jorge and this other union employee.

However, the problem is that my second source, had I detailed as "a long time custodian with years of experience," his employment at the Union would be seriously placed in doubt, as, when I went back to ask some follow up questions, he had been moved from his regular detail, where he encountered lots of people and often had time to chat, to setup detail and carpet cleaning on the fourth floor - he had told me that his supervisor had told him this would happen as they didn't want him talking to so many people. I tried limiting mention of him because if this could be tied to him, it could potentially end his longtime employment. I was trying to protect my source. I understand that it could have been included a little in the story and stated more explicitly, but I have tried to clear this up here.

The reason I did not wait for the other source on this story was because I didn't plan to include it in this story. At the most, I would have included it as a mention of what would be included with a later article - which, if I can get a hold of the other source in the next few days, I plan to write this person's story as well. I wanted to separate this second source from Jorge, as it sounded like they had far different elements involved, but shared the same mistreatment by the same supervisor.

There are other claims on the table that the ramp situation seems untrue. I believe this to be a misconception - there is an incline that they had to push in order to move the machine to the elevator. This could have been more explicitly stated, I admit.

As for statements made by Union officials, I did lay out the accusations, though I was most through with Marc Kennedy in explaining what was being alleged. In each case, they patently denied these claims, said that they have no reason to believe this to be the case and restated that they follow the documentation law to the tee. Marc Kennedy did explain some of the LTE stuff that wasn't explicitly stated, but I did mention that they're trying to move away from this sort of LTE use and that they increased the pay to a living wage in July 2007. This may have been seen as directly relating to Jorge, but it was intended to cover the LTE policy itself.

As for the inaccuracies Erik's anonymous source claims, I would say that the overtime remark is not inaccurate, it's Jorge's misunderstanding of what was owed to him. Even in this case, as I understand it, there is a certain hourly limit for these workers (meaning LTE's) that has to be followed and if it's not, working past these given times could put them over that limit.

These were the claims placed in front of me, the way they were presented and the way I handled them. I feel confidently that, in time, the risk in printing this article will prove the right move when more people come forward. The feedback I have recieved (albiet, off the record) seems encouraging and therefore, I intend to press on, collect more information, and report back with any new information.

I understand the criticism and encourage it, as the truth can't be reached by simply latching on to one side. However, I would say we should be critical not only of my coverage, but of the Union's response as well.


Bassey said...

Well said, Jason. Too many folks seem honestly confused about the nature, and long history of editorial journalism and exposee.

It seems clear that the process of getting to the bottom of this one has certainly just begun.

Erik Opsal said...

For the record, when you emailed me last night about printing our email exchange, which this entire post basically is, I agreed not to because I understood protecting your source.

Your third paragraph seems to imply I was going to print this even if you asked me not to, which isn't the case.

Jason Smathers said...

No, no. Beliee me, that wasn't the case Erik. I just decided to print the full text of what I emailed you because I felt there really is no need to obscure the people I've talked to other than to remove their names.

After I saw you posting claims given to you by anonymous sources, I felt, well, why not elaborate.