Note from the editor: Our newsroom is committed to getting it right
Early last week, on Nov. 4, the Park City School District contacted The Park Record with a serious and alarming accusation: Someone, school officials said, had targeted Superintendent Jill Gildea by throwing a rock through a window in the district-owned home where she and her family live. Further, they indicated Gildea had recently been subjected to other online and in-person harassment stemming from dissatisfaction that the district was spending taxpayer money on improvements to the home.
In the newsroom, our next step was clear. The situation needed to be covered. The vandalism allegation was newsworthy, especially since it was coming from the top levels of the district. Also important, in our view, was the context that the alleged vandalism had occurred with the district in the middle of controversy, regarding both the taxpayer-funded home improvements as well as a polarizing teacher training program at Trailside Elementary School.
In on-the-record correspondence with several district officials, including Board of Education President Andrew Caplan, spokesperson Melinda Colton and the superintendent herself (via Colton), the officials were clear and insistent: A person had thrown a rock through the window in an attack directed at the superintendent. We published an article that went online on Tuesday, Nov. 5, and appeared on the front page of the Nov. 6-8 print edition.
I stand by the decision to publish the district’s allegation. Our coverage erred, though, in repeating the claim as fact. The first paragraph, for instance, flatly stated that someone threw a rock through the window — it wasn’t until the second paragraph that a district source was cited. Additionally, we neglected to use the word “alleged” when describing the incident and omitted information that would have helped readers properly evaluate the allegation, such as a paragraph stating district officials did not provide evidence of the alleged attack or the specifics that led them to conclude it was targeted at Gildea.
Those deficiencies were addressed in a follow-up article in the Nov. 9-12 edition detailing why the Summit County Sheriff’s Office had not to that point opened an investigation into the incident. That article did a better job conveying that the rock-throwing allegation was just that — an allegation. It did not, however, change the fact that those who read the initial article were left with the wrong impression.
The mistakes in the first article became even more critical Friday, when the Sheriff’s Office determined a rock had not been thrown through the window. In fact, the agency found that it hadn’t been vandalized at all; rather, an inside window pane had cracked likely due to a temperature fluctuation. Ultimately, that meant the framing of our initial coverage wasn’t just potentially misleading — it was inaccurate.
As editor of the paper, it’s my job to uphold the most important covenant we make with readers: That we will make every reasonable effort to ensure what we write is true. The stakes get higher when we’re covering a controversial topic, and this time, I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain. Readers, surely, took notice. I apologize and commit to doing better.
Of course, this wasn’t the first mistake in The Park Record’s nearly 140-year history. And it won’t be the last. Despite the care we take to get things right, it’s an unfortunate reality of a profession that often relies on piecing together information from human sources.
As has been standard practice at The Park Record for decades, when we mess up, we will say so. We will continue to publish corrections or, when needed, print follow-up articles that correct the record.
And when we feel a mistake or editorial decision warrants even further clarification, we will make a renewed effort to provide it, either in a note from the editor like this or through other means. At a time when faith in news organizations is diminishing across the country, being transparent and accountable to the readers we serve is a foundational part of our mission.
Hopefully, that will convey an important truth that people outside journalism sometimes don’t know: As journalists, we feel an enormous responsibility for our coverage to be accurate and fair and take pride in being the paper of record in our community. We understand that, when we miss the mark, it matters.
There is nothing more important to our newsroom than maintaining the trust of our readers. And while perfection is not a standard The Park Record — or any other news outlet — will ever attain, when we fall short, like we did with our first story about the district’s rock-throwing allegation, we commit, as we always have, to doing our best to make it right.
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