The editor of Arkansas Business has penned an open letter to Rick Bagley, the news director at KFSM, the CBS affiliate in Fort Smith, Ark. At issue: a lengthy piece on the station’s website raising questions about the qualifications of the recently-appointed director of the University of Arkansas’ Center for Ethics in Journalism.
The editor, Gwen Moritz, says the article should have included a disclosure: it was written by KFSM managing editor Larry Henry, whose mother-in-law is a professor at the school who supported a different candidate for the job. Moritz exchanged several emails with Henry about the piece; in the open letter, she said Henry “insulted me personally and professionally and even offered some choice words for my husband for good measure.”
Moritz also reveals Henry has applied for jobs in the university’s journalism department twice, once as recently as last year. A Jim Romenesko reader points out when comments on the KFSM website started questioning some of the story’s problems, “the comments were mysteriously turned off.”
“If I were their news director, I would consider whether they are qualified to practice journalism at all,” Moritz writes in her letter to Bagley:
But I’m not their news director; you are. In standing by their work, you have personally approved the comparison of an accomplished professor with a woman who slept her way into a job and you have personally affirmed that the KFSM audience didn’t deserve to know that the story was produced by the son-in-law of a faculty member who didn’t get her way. Professional standards truly are set at the top.
In response, Bagley provided the following statement to Arkansas Business:
We stand by the reporting of this story. The story speaks for itself. We will not get into the process or the collaboration that went into its reporting. It’s a records-based story, centering on documents we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Based on the documents, readers can make their own decisions about the recommendation to hire Stephens for the job.