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The Denver Post and Taking Credit for a Prisoner's Release

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The April 3 Message column touches on a dispute between the Denver Post and Emily Achenbaum, a reporter for the Charlotte Observer. Achenbaum suggested to Editor & Publisher, a journalism-industry trade publication, that "Trashing the Truth," a Pulitzer-nominated Post investigation published in July 2007, didn't properly acknowledge her reporting about Floyd Brown, a North Carolina man who'd been charged with murder. Moreover, she felt subsequent pieces took too much credit after Brown was freed. To resolve the issue, Post editor Greg Moore assured Observer editor Rich Thames that reporter Susan Greene independently reported everything in "Truth" and stressed that "the Post hadn't intended to take credit for Brown's subsequent release in follow-up stories."

The October 9 and October 14 Post stories about Brown that Achenbaum mentioned to E&P don't contradict Moore's denial; they contain more than enough wiggle room as far as credit-taking is concerned. However, she apparently didn't see a December 6 piece announcing Greene's appointment as one of two new metro columnists, which explicitly links "Truth" and Brown's release.

How explicity? The article, penned by staffer Manny Gonzales, features the following passage paraphrasing Moore:

In July, she and Miles Moffeit produced an award-winning series on the destruction of DNA evidence in Colorado and across the country that has resulted in the freeing of one man and potentially another, Moore said.

Brown isn't named in this article, but there's zero doubt he's the person being referenced by Moore. At the same time, though, this statement shouldn't hurt the DNA series' Pulitzer chances. Since about ten minutes after the invention of the printing press, editorial and publishing types have taken as much credit as possible for their work out of a combination of pride and promotional fervor, and they'll continue to do so long after the last printed page disintegrates. The factors that led to Brown's freedom are varied, and stories in both the Post and the Observer likely contributed. In this case, then, the end result is more important than the bragging rights -- or the bragging fights. -- Michael Roberts

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