Love and Newspapers

The surfaced e-mails suggesting a romantic relationship between the new Miami schools superintendent and the former Miami Herald education reporter have already produced one casualty: the reporter, Tania deLuzuriaga, who resigned from the Boston Globe. Now the superintendent, Carvalho, is coming under fire too. With his contract not yet ratified, the criticism could have consequences. 

Will Carvalho go down the same way deLuzuriaga did? If the e-mails are real, it seems to me there’s a problem if only the reporter takes the hit. In the alleged e-mails I’ve seen, both the reporter and the superintendent seem to be making major missteps. The most disturbing line, aside from the explicit stuff, is this nugget, from deLuzuriaga to Carvahlo: “I have not been as sensitive to your position and helping you as you have been to me… But you’re right — if it doesn’t compromise us professionally, we ought to act in ways that help one another.”

This is not, in my experience, a representative reporter-source relationship. But there are some strains that ring true. The source needs the reporter to get across his message; the reporter needs the source to get information. Each takes a risk in angering the other, and each stands to benefit from helping the other. In a worst-case scenario, a reporter who writes a puff piece earns a scoop; a source who gives a scoop could earn a puff piece. In a grayer-but-still-wrong case, a reporter accepts a scoop or an exclusive even if it is not totally accurate.

That’s the problem, but there are also solutions — and they should be practiced by both sides. A good reporter hedges against ever having to write the puff piece by having many sources and having a strong spine. (A strong editor helps too.) A good public official does his part by not lashing out against a reporter trying to dig up the truth, and not expecting to be given special treatment in exchange for exclusives. In this case, it looks like the reporter erred. But Carvalho also seems in the wrong.

~ Guest blogger Elizabeth Green

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