Monday, October 6, 2008

Why journalists have to pay attention to the news

Like all good J-school profs, I make my students keep up with the news. This week we had a question on a news quiz about the fiscally and legally challenged state Senator, Dianne Wilkerson. (Whose name I spelled wrong in the test – 2 points off.)

The question asked:Long-time State Senator Dianne Wilkerson just barely lost the primary for her seat. What is she noted for?

a) She failed to file federal tax returns from 1991 to 1994.

b) She was endorsed by the mayor and the governor.

c) She’s the only African American in the state Senate.

d) She paid a $10,000 fine for campaign finance violations.

e) All of the above

The answer is e.

I wondered if this local news was important to these students. Then I picked up the twice weekly student paper – which is generally very good -- read a very positive story about Sen. Wilkerson. It failed to mention any of the tax and campaign finance problems.

It noted her history with NU:

Wilkerson said she has a long history with Northeastern and has made it a priority to "develop a mutual and respectful relationship between the university and the surrounding neighborhoods."

And it mentioned her recent primary loss and her write in campaign.

Despite setbacks, Wilkerson said her hopes were high that she would win.

"We are focusing on getting to November," Wilkerson said. "We believe we will be victorious."

No context. No mentions of a) b) or d). A single paragraph explaining her troubles and a comment from her would have gone a long way.

So, I’m glad my students are up to date. A day or two later, this story appeared in the Globe.
State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who has been dogged by legal troubles for years and lost the Democratic primary for her seat last month, now faces the possibility of disbarment

The state Office of the Bar Counsel filed a complaint yesterday accusing Wilkerson of violating the rules of professional conduct by lying under oath at a 2005 court hearing at which her nephew, Jermaine Berry, requested a new trial on a manslaughter conviction.


Anonymous said...

If you are going to keep up with the news at least now the facts. The senator did not have issues with campaign finance. She was fined unfairly for something that many politicians still do today and do not get fined for. She was fined $10,000 for a $500 campaign dress. It is not uncommon for politicians to rent suits etc. for campaigns and then charge it as a campaign expense.

The police who brought the charges against her are known to be dirty cops which is why the article omitted much of what you said was missing.

Lastly, dont mislead the youth, read truth to them. If you search for it you will find it. Dont be so inclined to jump from bandwagon and onto someones back. Lies and half truths are much more popular (it seems) than fairness and justice.

Tinkerr said...

I understand that some people think Sen. Wilkerson is being treated unfairly. We talked about that in class. But the four facts in the test are not in dispute. And, I think it is important to at least mention Wilkerson’s problems in a story about her reelection campaign. Then quote her response – Wilkerson argues that she’s been treated unfairly because of…. To ignore these very public issues is unfair to the reader.