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The sports section must always strive for accuracy

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Covering state championships, watching athletes strive to their best, experiencing riveting drama unfolding in front me are among the most enjoyable parts of my job as Juneau Empire sports editor.

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Among my other duties, however, are correcting errors in stories and providing explanations.

In Sunday's edition, the Region V track and field championships story, written by a freelance writer, had a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

The reporter misrepresented quotes from Juneau-Douglas High School runners Tyler and Wesley Dinnan. The story gave the impression that Tyler Dinnan ran the 3,200-meter run but, in fact, he did not. A quote about strategy was related to the 1,600, not the 3,200.

Also, Evelyn Fisher did not participate in the 3,200 relay - that error was mine - and Wesley Dinnan did not run the 800 in 1 minute, 58 seconds.

These errors are unacceptable and contrary to what I am trying to accomplish in the sports section.

I regularly hire freelance reporters to cover events I cannot attend to keep readers abreast of local happenings. We do not have full-time sports reporters on staff, therefore we will contract people in the community to cover events.

These reporters are not professional journalists. They are regular, working people who want to help out the sports section.

In the case of the Region V track story, our freelance reporter did not accurately report the event's results or provide the proper context for the quotes. By not clarifying times, events or quotes, the story was confusing and inaccurate to those who were involved in the meet.

As the sports editor, my job consists of more than just covering games and writing stories. I design the pages, choose which photos run, write the headlines, select which stories appear, edit stories for accuracy and make sure the pages reflect the most important local and national sporting events.

But above all, I am responsible for what is printed on the page, even if I was not at the event. It is my duty to make sure a story is as accurate as possible before it travels from my computer to the printing press.

This reporter has done a good job covering a plethora of events for the sports section and I had no reason to question her accuracy. However, I have taken steps to make sure that we will never have this many errors in one story again.

Our other freelance reporters - Guy J. Gautreau Jr. and Andy Wink - have performed exceptionally well and understand the vital importance of accuracy.

As a newspaper, all we have is trust. If the readers do not trust that we have the most accurate, reliable information in the newspaper, then we have nothing.

When mistakes happen, however, they happen under my watch. I am ultimately responsible for making sure that what you read in the Empire is an accurate portrait of what happened on the playing field. The Sunday track story did not correctly convey what happened at the Region V track and field championships, and for that I apologize on behalf of the Juneau Empire.

Since taking this position in April 2005, I have done my best to shape this section into becoming a reflection of the community. Accuracy is paramount to a newspaper.

In the future, I will perform my best to make sure this section is entertaining, lively and, above all else, accurate.

• Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at sports@juneauempire.com



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