published Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Gerber: Getting both sides of story

There’s an old saying in journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Journalists are encouraged — no, expected — to ferret out the truth and to not accept only one person’s view.

One of the most important ways of ensuring that you have checked out a story is to call the opposing side. It’s considered an essential, non-negotiable step in the process of reporting a story.

It was surprising — and disappointing — when that didn’t happen after a Times Free Press story became the topic of stories written by other newspapers.

Times Free Press reporter Chris Carroll interviewed a woman who said she had an extramarital relationship with U.S. Rep Scott DesJarlais while under his medical care. After the story was published on the front page of last Sunday’s paper, the woman left Carroll a message, saying some of her comments had been taken out of context.

Several newspapers and television stations reported on this, but only one — the Tennessean — actually called the newspaper or Carroll to get his side of the story.

If they had called Carroll, he could have told them that he recorded the entire face-to-face conversation with the woman, verified her name through legal documents and confirmed she had an affair with DesJarlais through the congressman’s own divorce records.

The woman later told Carroll the story is accurate and that she only said it was not because she got scared.

It’s a shame that the other newspapers did not bother to pick up the phone or type out a quick email, asking Carroll for his comment. It would not have taken long and would have made their stories more fair and balanced.

For those of us at the Times Free Press, this is a good reminder of how it feels when you’re at the center of a story, especially when something inaccurate is written or said about you. It reinforces what we’re trained to do and strive to do in every story — be fair, allow both sides to be heard.

That’s not to say that every story will represent both sides equally. Sometimes one side chooses not to say anything, or puts out a written statement instead of agreeing to an interview. In those cases, perhaps that side is not as well represented as we hoped, but

that’s the source’s choice. They were given a chance to discuss an issue, to respond to accusations, and they chose not to.

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Election Day is near, and here in the Times Free Press newsroom there’s been plenty of worrying about what time we’ll know who won the presidency. We hope we’ll know by press time who gets to take the oath of office in January.

With many polls showing a razor-thin divide between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Tuesday night could be a nail biter. At timesfreepress.com, you’ll be able to scroll across a map of the United States and click on any state for up-to-the-minute results in the presidential contest, data provided by The Associated Press. You will also be able to get county-by-county vote totals for Tennessee and Georgia.

And you will find frequent updates on local, state and congressional races provided by a team of Times Free Press reporters.

So sit back and watch the map turn red and blue.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfree press.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfree press.com.

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There's another saying, that a lie can run halfway around the world before the truth can finish getting its pants on.

November 4, 2012 at 1:26 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Chris Carroll is the best young reporter at the Times Free Press. He is my favorite because he will dig and take the story as far as it will go to get facts, while others just cover the surface. Oh please, assign him to one of our local governments for awhile. A flashlight, transparency is so past due.

November 4, 2012 at 8:22 a.m.
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