News organization to sheriff: We were right and your criticism is wrong. Here’s why, and how.
The Florida Time-Union in Jacksonville, working with ProPublica, did some spectacular data-driven journalism recently. It showed how “disproportionate numbers of (pedestrian) tickets in Jacksonville and elsewhere have gone to blacks, and that the seemingly minor infractions – jaywalking, walking on the wrong side of the road – can have significant repercussions for people unable or unwilling to pay the resulting fines.” And hundreds of those tickets were issued erroneously; no law had been violated.
The local prosecutor’s office, after calls for suspension or revision of the program, issued a bulletin clarifying the policies for writing pedestrian tickets. The county sheriff attacked that follow-up article, calling it inaccurate and misleading.
The news organization responded with a detailed rebuttal. Example:
1. Inaccuracy: The bulletin factually is not a “state attorney’s office bulletin.” It is a bulletin issued by the Sheriff to his officers.
The bulletin distributed to the sheriff’s officers is signed by Andrew Kantor, assistant state attorney. We spoke directly with the State Attorney’s Office Thursday night. The office’s spokesperson clarified for us that the bulletin was the work of the state attorney’s office and done in response to the sheriff’s request for guidance.
2. Inaccuracy: The legal position drafted by the police legal advisor specifically did not include a review of past citations issued; instead it cut-and-pasted the precise legal requirements of the Florida statutes.
We did not say the review was of past citations. Indeed, the article says specifically that the review did not involve looking at the tickets identified by the Times-Union and ProPublica as problematic.
This kind of work is important. It shows not only that the reporting was solid, but it reinforces what it takes to do it in the first place.
Dan Gillmor is a longtime participant in new media and digital media literacy. He’s author of the 2009 book, Mediactive, discussing media literacy in the digital age from a journalist’s perspective.