Critical of College Pro

One bad experience is not enough to represent the company as a whole.

Molly Moker

Good journalists don’t take anything at face value. They ask the tough questions and go beyond the statements on the news releases. But when under pressure to find the all-important critical voice, sometimes that source can become a stretch.

In December, an article ran in the Daily about College Pro Painters. As it was a critical article, the Daily immediately received questions from College Pro Painters’ officials. Upon further inspection, their complaints weren’t completely unwarranted.

The article quoted three sources. The lead source, Jon Hartwig, was negative. Two positive sources were introduced later. It also had information from the Better Business Bureau.

Caleb Brunz, vice president of College Pro Painters, said using Hartwig as the primary source was unfair, since Hartwig worked with College Pro Painters for only one week. That he stopped working there after one week was not mentioned in the article.

As legitimate as Hartwig’s reasons for quitting College Pro Painters might be, this article is a perfect example of how one critical voice does not necessarily a story make.

When Angela Gray wrote the first version of the College Pro Painters article, her editors told her it read like a news release and there needed to be more critical voice. Good point. Journalists are there to be watchdogs, not lapdogs.

They told Gray they would hold the story for one day: the pressure of a deadline – unfortunately the reality of journalism.

Gray found Hartwig. He was exactly the negative voice her editors wanted her to find on a day’s notice. Nevermind that of the five other people she spoke with, four had a positive experience with College Pro Painters and one thought the company seemed suspicious, although she never worked for them.

With the critical voice intact, not to mention the primary focus of the article, the story went into the Daily. The two other positive sources were quoted later in the article.

I am not saying College Pro Painters is a good or bad business. But the way this article was constructed is unfair. Relying on one source who had a bad experience is not representative. Although it’s fine to include someone who had a bad experience, relying on them to shape the article, especially when they spent only one week with the company, is irresponsible.

Naomi Scott, the associate editor for this article, said it should have been sourced better, but given the nature of the job, it’s not always easy to cover every angle in the time allotted.

“This is a story we held for one day, and unfortunately, as in the newsroom, there’s not a lot of leeway to hold (stories) another day,” Scott said. “I think we should have done that, looking back, but that’s a difficult situation.”

Managing Editor Brady Averill said she agrees there is a lack of sources in the article, yet the published version is more balanced than the fluff piece that originally was turned in.

“We’re not in the PR business, we’re in the news business,” Averill said. “I read (the first draft of) this story and there was absolutely no critical voice in there, where I’ve heard complaints about College Pro Painters through word of mouth.”

Any questions? Let me know.

Molly Moker is the readers’ Representative. She welcomes comments at [email protected]