Uncertainties follow Daily coverage of reporter questioned by police

A University police officer called an Oct. 9 Daily article about the questioning of a Daily reporter “a poor example of unbiased, accurate reporting.”

In an e-mailed letter to the editor, University police Sgt. Erik Stenemann criticized the report, titled “Daily reporter says police harassed him at Bursar’s Office,” which detailed Koran Addo’s experience at the Bursar’s Office on Oct. 9. Addo was allegedly stopped and questioned by University police officers after he had identified himself as a reporter and asked questions for a Daily article in the Bursar’s Office.

“The Daily opted to print an article regarding an incident involving one of their reporters and the Bursar’s Office of the University. The writers and the editor carelessly disregarded a query to the University police to discover the nature of the police response and the direction of the questioning involved,” Stenemann said.

Stenemann makes a valid point with this comment; the Daily article did not contain an interview with police officials to give their version of the incident.

Basic journalistic protocol indicates that news articles should contain at least one interview from someone who is not related to the subject of the article. In this case, potential outside sources could include University police officials, employees at the Bursar’s Office or people who witnessed the incident. So why did the Daily not include a comment from any of these sources?

“We would have loved to have that in the paper, but no one would comment for us,” said Shane Hoefer, the Daily’s editor in chief.

Daily associate editor Libby George said she and Daily reporter Britt Johnsen tried calling University police officials several times without response. Greg Hestness, assistant vice president for public safety, said he would not comment until he spoke with police officials. In addition, George said reporters also unsuccessfully tried to reach people who witnessed the incident.

“It’s possible that it would have been better to hold it another day to reach more sources, but that wasn’t an option given,” George said.

Stenemann provided an example of other perspectives that the article missed. He gave an alleged account of what happened: “Officers from the University police department received a call from employees that a male had entered the Bursar’s Office and was looking around the facility. They stated that he was asking them questions regarding closing and opening times, money-handling procedures, where the exits and entrances were and about employee staffing levels. To them, it appeared as if someone was casing the office for a potential robbery. Any reasonable person would likely assume the same thing. At no point did this person identify himself as a Daily reporter until well after police had responded to the complaint.”

Stenemann went on to call the article “a blatant misuse of media privilege to air a personal interaction. Will Daily reporters continue to sound off about their dates, family get-togethers, and phone calls from telemarketers as well?” He continued: “Why don’t they consider keeping a diary to record the events of their lives rather than using the pages of the Daily?”

George countered and said, “Had our reporters witnessed this happen to someone else, it still would have been reported. This is by no means a reporter venting about having a hard time with the police.”

The article also raises other questions that Stenemann did not mention in his letter. Daily lawyer Mark Anfinson, for instance, is quoted to provide an opinion from a First Amendment expert. In addition to his work for the Daily, Anfinson also aids several other media organizations in Minnesota and is well-qualified to comment on the First Amendment aspects of Addo’s questioning. His ties to the Daily, however, might imply to readers that the Daily intends to pursue legal action.

George said Daily reporters attempted to contact at least seven people to comment on the First Amendment issue, but only Anfinson responded.

“It was a last resort,” she said.

Additionally, the Daily has not run a follow-up article providing more information about the incident since the article’s publication. While Hoefer said the University police officials still refrain from commenting, that does not prevent Daily reporters from using other methods.

A police report filed after the incident, for example, could be used to garner the officers’ version of what happened, as well as the names of more witnesses. The longer the paper waits to publish another article, the more of an overreaction the Oct. 9 article appears to be.

Amy Hackbarth is the Daily’s readers’ representative. She welcomes questions and comments at (612) 627-4070 ext. 3282 or [email protected]