The Message

Here's to the good, the bad and the funny in Denver's most newsworthy newsroom.

The dispatches Finley filed from Iraq after the shooting started might have sparked similar debate -- but within the Post, such nuances were overwhelmed by chatter about a far less academic question: Did Finley wig out under fire and assault a Post photographer?

Initial buzz suggested that a disagreement between Finley and shutterbug Hyoung Chang, who couldn't be reached for comment, escalated until one of two things happened: Either Finley's hands brushed against Chang's neck or they were entwined tightly around his throat. That Finley wasn't disciplined for the incident argues against the more extreme variations on this theme, but Finley, who spent fifty days overseas as a non-embedded reporter, concedes that something went down.

"I was under stress, he was under stress, we snapped at each other and I reacted," Finley says. "After that, we both apologized to each other and finished the day's work. But I regret it."

War reporting is hell.

Post Toast No. 3 -- Confusion on the hoof: The science beat at daily newspapers is a notoriously tricky one. Reporters must explore complicated subjects accessibly enough to interest non-brainiacs, but with the intricacy and attention to detail required by experts.

Earlier this year, Post science writer Diedtra Henderson learned about a case that promised to satisfy both these demands. Last October, Grays Starlight, an expensive stallion whose offspring have earned about $7 million, died of West Nile virus even after having been injected with an experimental vaccine that kept another prize stud alive. Grays Starlight's death, which was reported in February 23's "W. Nile Vaccine Tough Choice for Some," gave Henderson a way to write about an important story that has sometimes been difficult to tell effectively. Too bad the spot where Grays Starlight trotted his last was even harder to find, resulting in a figurative wild horse chase.

Henderson, who shared her adventure by e-mail, wanted to interview the manager of Polo Ranch, where Grays Starlight had been stabled, as well as the first veterinarian to examine the horse as soon as it became ill. After being told the ranch was in Wyoming, she "flew a puddle-jumper" there, then rented a car and attempted to locate the vet's office using directions she'd been given. When she came up dry, she called from her cell phone and received the directions again, but they didn't help. "I was still nowhere close and said I'd simply return to the hotel and do the interview by phone," she maintains.

While she was chatting with the vet, Henderson goes on, "he said Grays Starlight fell ill about the same time he began seeing Texas horses with West Nile, so he suspected West Nile from the start. I asked why a vet in Wyoming would be seeing horses from Texas, [and] he said his office is in Texas.... Polo has two ranches. The main ranch is in Wyoming. A second ranch is in Oklahoma, [and] the horse I wanted...was at Polo's Oklahoma ranch," across the border from the vet's practice.

In other words, Henderson was not only at the wrong ranch, but in the wrong state. She learned that a charter flight could deliver her to Oklahoma, but when she presented her Post supervisors with this option, they advised her to do the rest of the Grays Starlight reporting over the phone, just as she'd done with the vet. As she puts it, "We cut our losses and decided I'd take the next flight to Denver."

The losses nearly got worse: As Henderson was on the way back from dinner prior to returning the rental car, a deer ran onto the road in front of her. Thanks to a quick reaction, she was able to tap the brakes and smack Bambi's relative at an angle. "It ran off after I struck it," Henderson writes. "Had I killed the deer, who knows whether I'd be alive to type this e-mail."

Afterward, Henderson wisely got out of the state she was in -- and back to one with which she was a little more familiar. Talk about weird science.

The politics of mistakes: The idea behind corrections in newspapers seems straightforward -- when a slip-up slips in, the publication acknowledges it in print as soon as possible. In actual practice, things can get considerably more complicated. In its May 22 corrections box, for instance, the Rocky ran a hefty, 26-line apologia for a May 16 article by business writer David Milstead about Enron Corporation suing Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group, which owns the Post. Even so, a close reading of the article raises doubts that any errors were actually made.

According to the correction, the May 16 piece "said Enron alleged that the newspaper company had 'skipped out' on payments it owed. In fact, the legal dispute is over the calculation of the termination value of the contract, if any." Later, the anonymous correction maven adds, "This dispute is not unique in the newspaper industry. Other major newspaper companies also hedged the price of newsprint with Enron."

Sounds like a botch from that account -- but the article specifically mentioned the termination value issue and affirmed that "MediaNews was far from the only company to hedge newsprint with Enron." In the end, it appears that MediaNews was mainly unhappy with the colorful but accurate "skipped out" phrase and had the muscle as a JOA partner with the Rocky to get a rewrite more to its liking published as a correction. That's probably not the "spirit of competition" the Society of Professional Journalists had in mind.

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