Thursday, April 2, 2015

News reporting and a conversation with an Arizona Republic columnist

I was a news reporter on the radio many years ago.  I read news stories off the wire but only after I checked and edited them, if necessary, for clarity, accuracy and essential content to keep the meaning clear.  My own news assignments were done the same way: written for clarity, accuracy and essential content.  It's a job I truly loved and wish I had had the opportunity to make it a life-long career.

I read an article in the finance section of the Arizona Republic yesterday and something jumped out at me.  I decided to write to the columnist about it and this is the result.  What do you think about this exchange?  My thoughts about it are at the end of the blog.  

Russ Wiles is an accomplished personal finance writer who is the co-author of two books on mutual funds. He's been with the Arizona Republic since 1991 and covers anything to do with money.

Our email conversation began here..........

Dear Mr. Wiles,

I was interested in reading your Sky Mall article in today's AZ Republic until I got to the paragraph that included the following, "Many of the firm's senior executives and employees are Orthodox Jews, according to the Fast Company article."

Since that kind of information is not germane to the story what possible reason would you have to justify including it other than to play to a negative stereotype?  Would you have written the same sentence had those people been Catholic or any other religion?

I don't think you meant it to be offensive but it was.  If that statement jumped out at me, I'm sure I'm not the only one who took umbrage at it.  I'm probably the only one, though, who has taken the time to write to you about it.             

 Will you please enlighten me as to why you included such an irrelevant statement?  

Thank you for your attention.

His reply:
On Apr 1, 2015, at 12:14 PM, Wiles, Russ <> wrote:

Hi Reisa,
Thanks for the note. I’m sorry you found the reference to Orthodox Jews to be a negative stereotype.
Mr. Pikarski seemed comfortable discussing it, and other press reports about C&A have mentioned it too.
I find it unusual and interesting, at least for a company with an Arizona presence.
Catholic-owned firms aren’t uncommon in Arizona but might be in other parts of the world.
Russ Wiles
Finance and money writer
The Arizona Republic | | 12 News

My reply to the above:

Mr. Wiles:

Mr. Pikarski may have seemed comfortable discussing it but that doesn't mean it needed to be in the article unless he specifically asked you to include it.  It simply was not germane or pertinent. I don't know what someone's religion has to do with the purchase of a company (unless, of course, it plays into "Hobby Lobby" problems later).

It's  a red flag to me and probably others.  I've been a news reporter and I would have specifically asked my interviewee for permission to use that kind of information, although I don't know why it would be included.

It was an interesting article but, in my opinion, the information in question was just not necessary.  I appreciate you getting back to me so quickly.

Reisa Miller
Chandler, AZ

Again, I heard from Russ Wiles:

On Apr 2, 2015, at 8:42 AM, Wiles, Russ <> wrote:

Hi Reisa,

I’ve been thinking about your Catholic comment in more depth and, yes, there are several situations where I can envision citing religion in some cases.
For example, if SkyMall was purchased by a group of Catholic nuns or Syrian Christians fleeing ISIL or Baptists who all attended the same mega-church in Gilbert, then I think we would definitely mention those situations and possibly give them more play than one sentence near the bottom of the article. Granted, it’s a judgment call, and I still don’t think the Orthodox Jew reference was negative. But I also agree that it wasn’t terribly significant, so I did remove it from the online version of the article.
Anyway, thanks for the feedback.
Russ Wiles
And my reply to him:


You have a great sense of humor.  I assume you’re not Jewish and may not be familiar with the subtleties that some words/phrases conjure up when used in certain ways.  But enough on this.  Thank you for removing it from the online version.   It’s removal doesn’t change the point of the article.

Your interest in following up with me is greatly appreciated.  Thank you for doing so.

Best to you…..

Reisa Miller
Chandler, AZ

My thoughts about this exchange:

When I wrote to Mr Wiles, I wasn't sure I'd get a reply.  I believe Mr. Wiles listened to what I had to say and explained how he came to write what he wrote.  The fact that he followed up tells me that he's more than a conscientious reporter.  That he ultimately agreed with me enough to make an adjustment to the online version is secondary to the fact that he took the time to reach out to me.   I deeply respect someone who cares enough to follow up on an email, act on it and not just dismiss a reader's concern.  I know this was a small concern, but he acted on it.  That's impressive . 

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