Readers deserve better

I always hate to see a journalist embarrass himself, but Jesse DeConto has done it again. That’s how I figure it after reading his piece on the Orange County sheriff race in The Chapel Hill News.

He seems to be having a bad journalism year, which began with the Chapel Hill election campaign last fall. DeConto doesn’t do well when he’s called upon to report politics in a fair and unbiased manner. He showed a distinct bias in his reporting of the Chapel Hill mayoral contest last fall. He repeatedly mischaracterized candidate Matt Czajkowski as “pro-business,” while going out of his way to describe Mark Kleinschmidt as the candidate who worked for death row inmates. I often heard candidates complain about DeConto misquoting them in his reporting.

Now comes the piece on Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass and his challenger, Clarence Birkhead. DeConto just can’t seem to assume a fair stance when he writes about community politics. The piece that profiled the candidates in the April 28 edition is a case in point. Birkhead answered questions presented to him by DeConto. Then those answers were shared with Pendergrass, who was allowed to rebut them in his profile. There was no chance for Birkhead to rebut.

That’s an embarrassment to any professional journalist. And it’s just plain unfair to readers who are seeking the facts so they can make an informed decision about the candidates. During my time with The News, reporters were taught to give both sides of a story. Reporters were to go out of their way to be fair and evenhanded and allow both viewpoints to be aired. The facts were important, not the writer’s opinion.

Looks like times and practices have changed at The News. DeConto deserves blame for his writing. If he wants to foist his opinions on readers, let him get his own blog. His editor is to blame for not pulling him aside and pointing out these deficiencies. Has the paper deteriorated to the point where it will print any old thing with no regard for accuracy or fairness? Sure seems that way.

Birkhead deserves an apology from DeConto and whoever is responsible for content at The News. And while they’re at it, they should clean up their act and start acting like a responsible newspaper. Chapel Hill readers deserve that.
–Don Evans

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4 Comments

  1. Sue Field

     /  April 30, 2010

    BRAVO! Don. Well said! David Simon (creator of “The Wire”) spoke to this when he addressed the National Press Club. We need your voices out there keeping journalism
    honest. (Who would have ever thought it would come to this.)

  2. Runner

     /  April 30, 2010

    I too have called out Jesse for his biased reporting during the last year or so. However, it is really his editor who should be publically criticized for the articles that appear in the paper.

    The CHN Editor and staff sucks up to those in leadership around here worse that Mr. Burn’s assistant, Smithers, does on the Simpsons TV show.

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  April 30, 2010

    Interesting to see Leroy Towns’ perspective on this same article:
    http://weblogs.jomc.unc.edu/talkpolitics/?p=1357#comments

  4. Steve

     /  April 30, 2010

    Maybe I don’t really ‘deserve better’ as you say. That paper is delivered to my house twice weekly, at no charge, so, I figure I’m getting exactly what I paid for. (It gets recycled soon after I clear it off my lawn, like so much litter.)

    I would wager that this paper will not be around more than a few more years, anyway. As the value of something decreases, over time, the quality of that something usually also goes down. These two factors conspire to become a death spiral.

    I used to work at Nortel and it pains me terribly to see what’s happened to that company and its once-stellar products and talented employees. So, I get how you might be upset in a similar way as you watch the decline of the CHN. Take it from me: let it go. It’ll eat you up otherwise. As for Mr. DeConto: we live in a meritocracy (mostly). His lack of professionalism will eventually catch up to him.

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