A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Ethics IN-BIEF

By Quill

Early letters prompt order from judge

The judge presiding over the Michael Peterson murder trial in Durham, N.C., told jurors Oct. 9 to disregard a letter by a local television reporter inviting them to dinner after the trial.

At least one of the jurors in the case received a letter at home from WTVD Channel 11 television reporter Sonya Pfeiffer. The dinner was to be held at the station’s studios. Judge Orlando F. Hudson said he told the jury that the letter was “premature” and instructed them to disregard it.

According to a letter Hudson sent to jurors, Pfeiffer said her letter was not supposed to be mailed until after the trial had concluded, the Durham Herald-Sun reported.

Television station news director Rob Elmore released this statement on the station’s Web site:

“WTVD reporter, Sonya Pfeiffer, with my approval, wrote letters to the jurors in the Peterson trial. It was our intention to mail the letters after the verdict was reached, not while they were deliberating. Unfortunately, the letters were mailed prematurely.”

Foul ball catch creates naming dilemma

Michael Cooke, the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, defended the newspaper’s controversial decision to print the name and employer of a Chicago Cubs fan who attempted to catch a foul ball in the stands during the eighth inning of Game 6 in the Cubs’ National League Championship Series loss.

Steve Bartman, who was pelted with cups of beer and other debris before being escorted from the stadium, was blamed by fans who said outfielder Moises Alou’s potential foul ball catch could have won the Cubs the game. They eventually lost the series 4-3 in Chicago.

“It is the biggest news story in town, and this is Chicago,” Cooke told Editor & Publisher following the decision. “We talked about it for a little while and came down on the side of publishing it. It was not 100 to 0, but the decision was made, and on we go.”

Some media critics disagreed. Seth Mnookin wrote in Newsweek that the “cheap and completely unnecessary scoop could turn one man’s life into a living hell.”

Historian suggests rescinding Pulitzer

A historian hired by The New York Times announced in October that the newspaper should revoke a 1932 Pulitzer Prize won by reporter Walter Duranty for a series on Russia. The winning work has been disputed for years, partially because of allegations that Duranty deliberately ignored in future coverage a famine in the Ukraine – forced by Josef Stalin – that killed millions.

Prior to the review by Columbia University history professor Mark von Hagen, a subcommittee of the Pulitzer Board had been reviewing the prize, The Associated Press reported.

The newspaper’s executive editor, Bill Keller, told Times reporter Jacques Steinberg: “It’s absolutely true that the work Duranty did, at least as much of it as I’ve read, was credulous, uncritical parroting of propaganda,” said Mr. Keller, who covered the Soviet Union for The Times from 1986 to 1991.

Keller and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. were contemplating rescinding the story. In 1932, only five Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in journalism. Duranty was one of two “correspondence” winners that year.

Photo manipulation raises questions at SI

The manipulation of a Women’s World Cup photograph in a late September issue of Sports Illustrated brought attention to existing tensions between the photography and art departments at the magazine.

A shot of U.S. player Mia Hamm in the Sept. 29 issue of the magazine’s “Leading Off” section shows Hamm jumping in mid-air over a Swedish defender. The original shot, taken by Getty Images photographer Doug Pensinger, included a third player in the right foreground.

Photo District News Online reported that the magazine has been embroiled in a debate over the presentation and manipulation of photography.

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