The Washington Times Editor John Solomon has told FishbowlDC that his paper split with Communities Digital News, the company that managed and edited the “Washington Times Communities” social journalism page, because of its history of inaccurate reporting.
After a handful of instances, some pre-dating Solomon’s arrival, in which there were questions of accuracy about certain posts, the last straw was an erroneous story posted to the “Communities” page by contributor Michael Lotfi on January 9th. In that story, Lotfi reported that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) voted in the 2012 Democratic primary. This was, in fact, false, and the story was eventually disproved by local officials in Tennessee and by Alexander’s staff.
TWT eventually took it off the website and replaced it with a correction saying that the false information had been “based on a document provided by a third-party data aggregator,” and that “Washington Times Communities has not been able to independently verify the document.”
“The basic p’s and q’s of journalism had not been followed” with regard to that story, Solomon told us. “The author hadn’t checked the authenticity of the document on his own or sought out fair comment.”
That led him to “put a pause” on the “Communities” page’s activities as he conducted a review of the relationship with Communities Digital News. That review found that oversights in the reporting had not been caught in the editing process, and that even after the accuracy problems were identified, the proper steps weren’t taken to correct the record.
“That is what concerned us. We wanted to protect the integrity of the journalism process. So we decided to bring the editing in house,” Solomon said. “We don’t want inaccurate posts on our website -even from outsiders -especially if it could have been prevented before hand.”
But Communities Digital News Editor Jacquie Kubin, who officially launched a new stand-alone site on January 13th, says the breakup with TWT was in the works before the Lotfi story ever ran.
“The story was unrelated to our continuing relationship with the Times,” she told us in an email. “Communities Digital News, LLC had been discussing the business relationship with the Times for some time.”
Solomon pushed back on that idea.
“Any suggestion that it had to do with negotiations, compensation, is dispositively false,” he said. “It was really a matter of journalism integrity.”
Solomon says that plans are on track to re-launch the “Washington Times Communities” page in the next few weeks -this time with new contributors who will be edited directly by TWT staffers.
Editors note: This post was updated Feb 8th at 12:44 PM to more clearly reflect comments made to FishbowlDC by John Solomon.