Admitting Mistakes

One of the sessions at the upcoming NLGJA Convention in Philadelphia, which starts next week, is a session titled Reputation on the Line: Building & Maintaining Credibility featuring Bil Browning and Jillian Weiss from Bilerico Project and David Hauslib, who launched Queerty.  The goal is to look at some recent scandals involving blogger identity and discuss “what it takes to build a reputation and credibility in the digital environment and how to keep it.”

A perfect example of how to build credibility was modeled today by Browning, who admitted that a story he’d reported about the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair was inaccurate. Browning details the calls he made regarding the story floating around that the partner of a woman killed when the stage collapsed was unable to get her body from the morgue because she wasn’t considered next-of-kin.  It turns out that story was incorrect.

My mistake was never speaking to the alleged victim; Santiago’s partner is still in intensive care in an Indianapolis hospital, and it seemed crass to call her for a statement. Instead, I relied on my sources for verification. This was a grievous lack of judgement on my part.

I didn’t report on the original tragedy at the fair because it wasn’t LGBT-relevant. I consciously didn’t report that one of the victims was a lesbian, because it seemed crass and unimportant to inject sexuality into a story about life and death. But when I thought one of our tribe was being abused by the local government during her worst hour, my activist outrage overpowered my journalistic common sense and mayhem has ensued.

Every journalist is going to make mistakes.  Some of us are fortunate to have editors and producers who catch them for us, but sometimes even multiple layers of oversight aren’t enough.  It can be even harder for solo bloggers or online outlets that have fewer layers of editing or even the opportunity to chat with a colleague about the story you are working on.

Browning, this year’s Excellence in Journalism award winner for online journalism, does what good journalists do–and don’t do enough–which was to acknowledge where things went wrong and explain why it happened.  That’s a real service to his readers and contributes to his credibility and the reputation of Bilerico.

And it will, undoubtedly, make for something to discuss during his session.

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