Editorial: Two wrongs don't make a right
The Portland (Maine) Press Herald editor/publisher apologized to the paper's readers Sunday after running a story about the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan that appeared on – you guessed it – Sept. 11.
The story had no inaccuracies. It wasn't offensive. It contained no inflammatory remarks. It did not violate the paper's policy, standards or practices. No crime was committed. It was simply a piece about the end of the Muslim holiday. There was, actually, nothing to apologize for.
But apologize Richard Connor did. He was responding to the reaction from readers who saw the story being printed on that day as offensive. Connor wrote that the paper should have balanced the front page coverage with a story about Sept. 11, 2001 and its anniversary. He felt they should have shown more sensitivity in the layout of the page.
The criticism came via Facebook, Twitter and the paper's Web site, and there was apparently enough of it that the apology became, according to Connor, necessary.
But it wasn't. The paper did nothing wrong. It published an accurate story on the day that was the end of the holiday. The story did nothing to rub salt in the still-sore wound caused by Sept. 11.
The apology, however, is a different story. The paper now has to deal with injured credibility, since it has now effectively communicated to its readers – and beyond – that it can't be trusted. The apology has now not only alienated a portion of its readers, but it has made a negative statement about its own reporters. And worst of all, it has put its own editorial control in the hands of the outraged.
One blogger wrote that all of those who wrote, edited and placed that story were thrown under the bus by the apology. We couldn't agree more.
It's okay to engage readers and let them have their say – it's what a newspaper, particularly a community newspaper, does best. Journalists need to hear what they're doing right, and what they're doing wrong, and the best place for that commentary to come from is readers.
But part of the job of a journalist, and even more so an editor or publisher, is to take the crap flung at the paper because of its coverage, and turn it into productive fodder from which the paper and its employees can learn and grow. The job of an editor or publisher is not to cower and hand over the reins of the newsroom to the masses.
The worst part of this whole thing is that by wronging their own right, the Press Herald's leadership has now effectively taught its readers a lesson in intolerance, the one thing that no one wanted to see come out of the terrorism of Sept. 11.
And when this is the case, the bad guys win.