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Story was wrong, and we apologize

December 13, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

We apologize to all our readers, and especially to the Bloomingdale Elementary School community, for publishing a story on Saturday's front page that turned out to be untrue.

No one at the school "cracked down of Christmas" by blocking songs mentioning Santa Claus, etc. from the annual holiday concert, as we reported Saturday.

Here's what really happened, according to school Principal Theresa Lindsay: The holiday concert for this year was planned around a winter theme; last year's had been planned around a barnyard theme. That's why the songs were mostly about winter - not because of a political agenda. There was also at least one traditional Christmas carol in the original song list. Really, this was not a news story.

The song list was misinterpreted, however, and on Wednesday morning, a parent asked Ms. Lindsay about it. She said she didn't know anything about it, but that same day she sat down with music teacher Janeen Streeter, went over the song list and modified it to satisfy people. By 3 o'clock that afternoon, it was settled - or so she thought.

At the same time, other parents and a grandparent told the Enterprise Wednesday about their concern over the concert not having any Christmas or Hanukkah songs. They said it had been a conscious decision made to not offend a single non-Christian student.

The grandparent brought it up at the school board meeting that evening, but it was not resolved publicly. The school board members didn't deny it, but in hindsight that was probably because they didn't know anything about it.

The next day, when one of our reporters tried to follow up, Principal Theresa Lindsay and district Superintendent Gerald Goldman had the day off work; the reporter left messages for them. Ms. Lindsay was back at work on Friday, but the superintendent was still off and so was our reporter until that evening. With still no response from the officials by Friday night, we ran the story, taking it from the concerned parents' point of view. We assumed that the lack of response from school officials, and the non-denial by the board, indicated they didn't want to talk publicly about a controversial issue.

That was a huge mistake on our part. Even though we waited two days, we still jumped the gun.

There were two parallel streams of conversation that unfortunately did not cross in time: one within the school and another in the wider community, which included us. If we had understood what was going on inside the school, we would have said, "Never mind," like Gilda Radner's Emily Litella character after her misinformed rants on 1970s "Saturday Night Live" "Weekend Update" sketches.

While it would have helped if a school official had returned our calls in time, the fault is ours, not of anyone at the school. We're the ones in the truthful reporting business. This was a false rumor, and we mistakenly published it as fact. We should have been more skeptical and patient. We're sorry.

You should expect that the news we publish is true, and it is. We have almost never had to write editorials like this, and for good reason. While no veteran media outlet can honestly say it's never gotten a story wrong, for the Enterprise, this is extraordinarily rare exception, one which motivates us to not let it happen again. But if it does, you can count on us to admit it immediately and publicly.

Keep holding the Enterprise to the highest of journalistic standards. Expect us to be scrupulously accurate. We will be. If we drop the ball, let us know, and we'll make things whole. Credibility is everything to us. You need a news source you can trust, and that's us. We're absolutely committed to it.

Meanwhile, to any kids who are reading - and we hope they are - there are two lessons here for all of us:

1. Rumors are dangerous.

2. When you make a mistake, admit it right away.



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