Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, January 19, 2018

Letter from the editor: We made a mistake

The Eagle staff apologizes for the publication of a factually inaccurate staff editorial

I made a mistake, and I want to apologize for it.

If you clicked on this page previously, you saw The Eagle’s staff editorial about tuition and Student Government. I have retracted this editorial due to factual inaccuracies. The Eagle staff does not take retraction lightly. It means that we have failed the first tenet of the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. We did not seek truth and report it.

Student Government Comptroller Abby Dunn does not sit on the Board of Trustees, as we said in the previous editorial. The only student member is Joe Ste.Marie, and he is non-voting. Dunn sits on the University Budget Committee. In the staff editorial, the staff also criticized Dunn and SG for not advocating for what the students want without providing evidence that this was the case. The Eagle staff could not say if Dunn advocated a tuition freeze to the committee, because we did not sit in on those discussions.

Retracting the article is the first step in correcting our mistake, but it does not absolve us of guilt, nor does it earn back your trust as readers.

As The Eagle’s editor, I want to personally apologize for publishing an editorial that was not fully grounded in fact. I also want to apologize to Dunn for criticizing her performance on the University Budget Committee without supporting our arguments with facts.

"I made a mistake, and I want to apologize for it."

Most importantly, I want to apologize to you, our readers, for breaking your trust in The Eagle. When you read the paper, in print or online, you expect to read articles that contain the truth. When you read staff editorials and opinion-editorials, you seek to find opinions that are backed up with facts. By publishing this particular staff editorial, I placed that trust in jeopardy.

I hold the staff to high standards, and we are constantly working to make sure what we publish is factually accurate. The staff editorial is The Eagle staff's only opportunity to express opinions about the topics we report on. As the editor, I failed when I allowed this piece to be published, and there was no excuse for it to be put on the site. There were red flags in the editorial that indicated inaccuracies, and I should have been more informed on the budget process in order to edit properly. Because of this, retracting this piece is the only solution.

The staff and I failed in another way. We use our staff editorials to communicate with the University community, including SG, student groups and the administration. The administration and the University community read our editorials. We’ve tried to use them as effectively as possible. Previous editorials have criticized the University for the lack of transparency with both Professor David Pitts and the death of a student and announced to the staff of the University that we are not WONK.

By publishing a staff editorial with factual errors, we failed to communicate an important message to the AU community. Tuition is a topic that touches every student at AU. We had a chance to tell the Board of Trustees what we needed, and we lost our message in our mistakes.

"By publishing a staff editorial with factual errors, we failed to communicate an important message to the AU community."

We are rewriting the editorial and will publish it in the next few days. Tuition remains a huge issue, and the need to communicate effectively with the University community about tuition has not gone away. We will do our best to overcome the mistakes we made last time.

We will also change our fact-checking process. The retraction is a wake-up call for The Eagle. There are structural flaws in our editing system that we need to correct.

Mistakes happen on both professional and college newspapers. Because of that, we are committed to making sure going forward that we are more diligent in our fact-checking to ensure that an incident like this does not happen again. The editorial staff has discussed how we will change this system. This may mean news moves slower for a while, but a commitment to accuracy is more important than speed.

We understand the damage we’ve done to our reputation and promise that we will do everything in our power to improve. You can help us, too. Help us by being our sources to make sure we get it right. If we make a mistake, let us know right away by emailing us at editor@theeagleonline.com. And when we fail to do our job, call us out on it by submitting letters to the editor to edpage@theeagleonline.com.

Please accept our sincerest apologies for the error. We are working to become a better Eagle.

Heather Mongilio is the editor-in-chief of The Eagle.

hmongilio@theeagleonline.com


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