If you listened to our show on Friday, we spent a lot of time discussing the State’s audit of the University of Nebraska’s use of credit cards for, in some cases, unauthorized purposes. While it looks like the audit uncovered some real problems in the way these cards were being used that needed to be brought to the public’s attention, John and I mentioned several times on Friday that the Lincoln Journal Star didn’t do the University (or clear reporting) any favor with a ridiculously huge headline that simply said “$40 Million”.
Aside from the fact that it seemed the font was the size that normally reads “Huskers Win National Championship” or “U.S. Attacked”, there was also the slight matter that the $40 Million mentioned wasn’t particularly newsworthy. That amount was the annual volume of the University’s Credit Card program, NOT the amount alleged to have been spent in violation of policy, which was much, much smaller, and the source of the actual news. While the public certainly deserves an explanation for these expenditures and the University needs to take serious corrective action, I’m hopeful that this incident doesn’t disproportionately feed into what has become a surprisingly strong distaste for the University among many of the people I talk to around Lincoln. While I don’t begrudge criticism of the University, which is healthy when we’re dealing with a state-run institution, that criticism is more frequently being backed by misinformation, and this doesn’t help.
That said, I applaud LJS Editor Michael Nelson for stepping up and admitting the mistake in this Sunday’s papers (albeit it was on page F5, not quite the audience of page A1 in 80 point font).
I was particularly critical of the newspaper on Friday’s show because it was the second time in a single week that the LJS had written a headline that was inaccurate in a way that almost seemed to be designed to feed into a common source of local outrage. In Wednesday’s online editions, the headline above Deena Winter’s column read “City arena tab so far — $2.9M”.
Well, that’s not really true, which the article itself clarifies. Of that $2.9 Million on the city’s ‘tab’ to study and plan the arena project, more than half of it ($1.6M) comes from a loan from the 2015 Vision group. That loan will not be repaid unless the voters approve the arena. Yet, I know that listeners with whom I talked, and I presume others around the city assumed that nearly $3 Million in city funds were spent prior to any kind of voter input. Not true. And now, much like the strong distaste for the University, the intense and grumpy faction of this city who thinks the city is constantly trying to pull one over on its citizens via this arena project is energized. Wonderful.
I don’t mean to imply that the LJS is trying to encourage this sentiment behind the scenes, but I do recognize that the “anonymous copy editors” are obviously looking for the sexiest headline, which apparently often comes at the expense of context and full disclosure of the facts. The result? A lot of people who skim headlines and articles (we all do it) end up with out-of-context or irrelevant facts. C’mon LJS, if you fix your headlines, I promise not to complain the next time you refuse to mention John and me by name when you use us as a source–we can forever be the mysterious “Morning Talk Show on KLIN“.