LETTER: Facts first, even for opinion pieces

I was both appalled and reassured by what I’ve seen so far (Romanesko’s media blog and the D.I. articles) about the Midnight Madness editorial and the editorial board’s decision to stop, regroup and start getting things right more often.

It is sadly often necessary to remind student journalists, and even working professionals of all stripes, that good reporting necessarily precedes all good non-fiction writing. My occasional course on editorial and column writing keeps me in touch with some top professionals. They sometimes reinforce the message to my students: A franchise to spout off is not a license to spew apparently factual information that has not been checked with reportorial and editorial zeal.

As some of you probably know, the Supreme Court has said as much, at least with regard to libel cases.

Even without the threat of defamation litigation, factual error anywhere erodes the credibility of the entire organization, doubly so for information that criticizes or denigrates anyone. See the National Conference of Editorial Writers credo at ncew.org.

As one of my reporters once said, “pobody’s nerfect,” so fessing up and fixing up is a reassuringly responsible thing to do. So do speak up, be an aggressive watchdog on or adversary to the powers that be, even spout off — but always with “true facts.”

John R. McClelland

University Alumnus