Reporter’s Corner: To thine own self be true

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

In my opinion, one of the worst things you can accuse a newspaper or their reporters of is providing misinformation in order to sway readers in one direction or another.
The very core of reporting on the news should be without bias, without opinion and without prejudice.
To accuse a reporter of filling their news writings with any of those vices is to accuse that reporter of being unfit for their position.
And so, with that in mind, I strive very passionately to keep any personal thoughts or opinions to myself, even when interacting with the community outside of my clocked-in hours; I try to get along with all people, whether or not we are in agreement over certain practices or happenings around town.
So, on Monday, January 14, when the Monticello News (through one of my stories) was accused of providing misinformation regarding an elected official, the accusation was one that I took very seriously.
Once a month, I cover the regular meetings of the Jefferson County School Board. Sometimes there are special meetings that require additional coverage (such as the recent Department of Education meeting in Tallahassee). No matter what the meeting is, though, ECB Publishing, Inc. broadcasts the meetings on our Facebook page and I have a recording device keeping track of every word said and every decision made so that my coverage of the meeting does not lack a single detail.
Every quote typed is written down exactly as it was said (although sometimes slight changes, contained in brackets, are added to help clarify the quote).
But, on January 14, Ms. Shirley Washington, the chairperson of the school board, issued a complaint regarding an article we had run pertaining to their last meeting.
“For who were at last month's meeting, you probably read the Monticello News,” Ms. Washington began, quickly adding that she – herself – does not read her community's only source of news.
According to Ms. Washington, someone had informed her that her quotes and statements from the December 2018 meeting were 'miswritten' and 'misquoted'.
Now, it should be noted that Ms. Washington did not read the newspaper herself to confirm this information (she likes to remind us that she refuses to read the Monticello News), so this was purely hearsay on her part.
“I don't mind you putting me on Facebook, and I don't mind you writing in the Monticello News, but be sure we write it as accurately as said,” Ms. Washington added, as if what we write depends entirely upon her approval and her stipulations.
'How could it be that I had misquoted her?' I wondered.
And so, I went back and checked the newspaper article she had referenced (it ran on Wednesday, December 19 in the Monticello News – titled: “Tensions Flare at School Board Meeting over JES”) and then checked the audio I had from that meeting.
One of Ms. Washington's favorite quotes (and we know this because she reminds us frequently) is “To thine own self be true.”
So here I am, Ms. Washington, being true.
The article was, in no way, misquoted.
The article did, in no way, provide misinformation.
Ms. Washington claimed that my article falsely insinuated that the reason for her calling for an officer to be on-scene at the board meeting was because she refused to allow a citizen to speak.
At no point did I write any judgment regarding the actions of either party; all I did was recount the happenings and the actions of Ms. Washington and the citizen.
If a conclusion was born as to why the citizen was asked to be silent, sit down or leave, it was not my actions, my words, nor my pen, that brought those opinions to life.
During the January 14 meeting, Ms. Washington said she wanted to “set the record straight” to any who reads the Monticello News.
So do I, Ms. Washington.
Here is the record, as straight and unfiltered as it can possibly be: a citizen attempted to speak at the December 2018 Jefferson County School Board meeting. The citizen did interrupt a board member. Chairperson Washington reacted by banging her gavel for the citizen's silence, then repeatedly insisted the citizen leave. Even after the citizen left, Ms. Washington requested a Monticello Police Department officer to be on scene, as she later claimed she (or the board) felt threatened.
“Some people say things to make some people look...bad,” Ms. Washington said last week. “But the truth is the only thing that is going to stand. If you know what you are talking about, and you have facts to prove what you are talking about, then you can stand on the rock.”
I am standing on the rock, I know without a doubt that the words I write are the truth, are unbiased, are without prejudice.
So someone must be lying – but I know it is not me and I have the recording to prove it.