How exactly did “A show of faith and forgiveness” turn into an apology? Gutlessness.
Readers of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram may have been surprised to find an open letter from Publisher Richard Conner yesterday (and today), offering an apology for a story that appeared in print and online.
Was it a grossly inaccurate story? A clear violation of the paper’s standards and practices? Did it perpetrate a crime against the community?
No. They published a story and photos on Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan. And thanks to the date, Sept. 11, that drove some people into hysterics.
In his letter Connor apologized to readers for showing a lack of sensitivity and not balancing their coverage with 9/11 events.
Unfortunately what Connor’s done is created a self-inflicted wound to his newspaper. By apologizing for a factual story portraying part of the community it covers, the Press Herald has damaged its ability to educate, betrayed the journalists who work there, alienated a part of their audience and shown that editorial control can be won by the power of the mob.
In offering the apology, Connor was taking a reactionary stance to an outcry from readers, over email, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter. Since I’ve never sat in the big seat reserved for publishers, this may be guesswork, but taking flak for (and defending) stories is part of the job. As he outlines in his letter, the work of assigning, editing and placing stories is a serious one that involves a large group of people, all of whom just got thrown under the bus in favor of the commenting class.