The Chronicle editor asked. FC delivers suggestions and a critique

✔The editor of the Chronicle, Sanette Tanaka, wrote a column for the summer-time Send Home edition of the paper: "Tell us what you want to read in our pages and on our website. Let us know about issues you want to see covered. Write a letter to the editor, submit a guest column, comment on our stories, tweet your thoughts."

Fact Checker takes that invitation seriously, and here goes.

✔✔A) A newspaper is the first draft of history. It needs primary sources, not quotes from a PR man.

In the Send Home edition, the spokesman for the Brodhead Administration, Michael Schoenfeld, is the principal source for four stories. And his deputy in the area of fund-raising is the source for a fifth.

PR people should be used to identify and gain access to the real news-makers. Their filtered facts should not appear with regularity or prominence.

✔✔ B) The newspaper needs to be far more probative. Example: Schoenfeld says President Brodhead is lining up a major donor for the Kunshan campus. Question that was not asked: is this a donor who might have been cultivated for the home campus, and thus these dollars are lost for Durham?

Another example: surely the Chronicle reporters know about the FC report that there is a major construction problem in Kunshan that will delay its opening. Amid the glorious fireworks of the President's three week spree abroad, did any Chronicle person ask about this?

And finally, a third example: as reported by FC on May 14, and the Chronicle on July 1, the Trustees have elected Jack Bovender and David Rubenstein as vice chairs. Did anyone ask Rubenstein, who chairs the special China committee of the Trustees, how he managed to endorse two new degree programs in Kunshan, while the Fuqua faculty decimated them, raising question after question about their viability?

And while letting Rubenstein boast that he serves on perhaps as many as 30 boards, did anyone ask if he is not stretched too thin? As FC has reported from a source behind the locked doors of the May Trustee meeting, Rubenstein was even absent when he was elected vice chair.

Beyond that, we have the question is who is replacing the half dozen Trustees who have retired. We will have a rather large number of freshmen on the board -- confirmed to their new posts last winter and spring by the alumni and the Methodist Church. For reasons best known to the Imperial Court in Allen Building, their names have not yet been made public even though their terms have begun.

✔✔ C) The newspaper needs to be far more comprehensive. In its coverage of the Potti Mess, for example, it never reported comments from President Brodhead. In fact he was quite weak, at one point saying Duke's vetting of potential employees did not have to change, and at another saying we should not jump to conclusions about Potti's false claim of a Rhodes Scholarship, for there may be an "intermediate explanation" between truth and lie.

Chronicle coverage of the uproar in the faculty over the plans for Kunshan has been shameful. Since June 1, when the Fuqua faculty refused to accept two proposed degree programs -- thus rebuking the leadership of Brodhead, Peter the Provost and Fuqua Dean Sheppard -- the paper alluded to developments once in an editorial. No news story.

Finally a news story appeared July 1 in the Send Home edition, giving an accurate if under-stated accounting of faculty opposition.

As Brodhead has said, this is the biggest initiative since James B. Duke had a vision in 1924 to convert Trinity College into Duke University -- and it should be covered as such.

✔✔✔ Moving on to the editorial page, there is a need for more careful reporting. Example: a recent editorial lavished praise on the Athletic Department for its financial support of the Libraries. Well not quite. Athletics has agreed to slap a $1 surcharge on tickets, so it's the fans who must dig deeper, a point not made. Instead, obfuscation led readers to believe the Athletics Department was surrendering funds.

The best evaluation we can give of the columns on the editorial page is that they are blather. Loyal Readers, that's generous. The columns simply do not reflect careful consideration of topic and substantial research into the affairs of Duke University, which the Chronicle is committed to cover.

✔✔ FC applauds the election of a senior to the position of editor. For many years, this position accrued to a junior -- in other words someone elected when he or she had only three semesters of experience on the paper. We believe there will be two benefits in having a senior rather than junior as editor: first, more staff members compete for more semesters for the top job, rather than having key candidates drift away at the end of their sophomore years. And secondly, the newspaper should reflect a greater perspective and maturity.

✔ An essay on the Chronicle must include a note about its finances: as rocky as any newspaper in the country. We will have more on this when numbers for the academic year just finished are available.

Thank you for reading FC. If you'd like to evaluate us, we're ready: Duke.Fact.Checker@gmail.com. As we have noted repeatedly, we hope in the coming semester to add an important forum for readers.


A Loyal Reader asked FC what the Chronicle does well and what writers we recommend. We have enjoyed the sports coverage and columnists, even when they went out on a limb and suggested to Coach K that he bench Kyle Singler just three months before he was the MVP in our national championship. The sports photography (the on line albums) are quite fine.

And we enjoyed the hard work and obvious research of columnist Gregory Morrison, who has now graduated. We find great promise in the work of Taylor Doherty, and look forward to the product of his decision to write and report in his senior year, rather than seek a job with administrative requirements.

Please note that on a continuing basis, we have suggested to various editors stories that invariably are not pursued:

Example: Duke's student health insurance no longer pays for blood tests, including STD tests. Did that result in a change (reduction) in the number of students getting tested? If so, this is a dangerous move.

Example: Peter the Provost was allowed to duck three times behind claims that "details are not yet available" on the early retirement incentives for faculty. We are entitled to know how many people were ultimately involved and at what cost.

Example: with Duke saving energy by offering less air conditioning (and less heat in winter), are students and employees as comfortable?

Example: The newspaper has discussed the excellent student government investigation into labor contracts covering food workers. There were allegations of much waste. What is happening this summer? Is Duke required to keep people on the job while the campus is largely deserted?

FC has offered hundreds of constructive suggestions. And some strong criticism.

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