Learn from mistakes

The trouble with student journalists is that they make mistakes. They don’t know the ins and outs of reporting and writing news stories – which I guess is good, because if they did I wouldn’t have a job.

So in the pursuit of news to fulfill both class requirements and fill The Spartan with interesting stories, errors get made.

In a recent Spartan story about the gas price battle among Castleton’s four stations, one owner was quoted as calling a competitor “a snake.”

The story led to a call to me from the accused and an e-mail from a professor who is friends with the accuser.

The accused said that sort of comment didn’t belong in the school paper.

The accuser, through the professor, said he didn’t say the comment anyway.

I was left to try to sort it all out.

The student, I learned, had taped the conversation without introducing himself as a reporter and without taking notes in a notebook.

There are good and bad aspects to that, mostly bad. Reporters generally should always introduce themselves and while tape recording is ok — and legal to do without telling the source according to a Vermont Press Association official — reporters should always take notes too.

In this case, the tape recorder revealed that the accusor did called the accused a snake, although he said he meant it as a broad statement about some gas station owners who play around with pricing – not specifically about the accused. He said it was taken way out of context.

Regarding the accused’s comments that those types of comments don’t belong in The Spartan, I guess I disagree.

I guess I like to treat The Spartan as if it were a daily newspaper and if someone says something powerful, I’d say it’s ok to use it.

Now again, the student erred in his original story by not contacting the accused for his side, which I made sure he did before the story ran. During that conversation, the accused snake said he meticulously discussed how gas prices are devised, which the student reporter ignored. He probably should have mentioned at least some of that conversation, to add context to the story.

But I guess I don’t see a problem with controversial comments.

I’m purposely not naming names in this column in an attempt to not pour gas on the fire. And I guess the reason I felt compelled to write it is to drive home the fact that these are student reporters, who in some cases are working on their first news story ever.

Mistakes are going to be made. The important this is that we learn from them and work hard to not repeat them.

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