Last week's Times story by reporter Eric Slater about the frats at Cal State Chico, already the subject of an LAT For the Record and scorn in Chico, continues to draw criticism. This time it comes from David Little, editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, who says of the story, "I was embarrassed. It made our profession look bad." He questions if some of the cited sources exist:
It wasn't just the factual errors the fact that the reporter said Chico had 35,000 residents (in 1960?), that the university has 14,000 students (missed by about 1,300), that the school is best known for its basketball team (huh?), that a college student died in 2002 with a blood alcohol level of 0.496 percent (never happened) and that the school has a "titillating reputation as dark, risky even dangerous" (apparently a reputation you hear everywhere but here)....
But those factual errors may not have been the worst of the problem. What bothered me most and this might only bother an editor was the gratuitous use of anonymous sources (as in, "said a woman who, like many students on every side of the debate, declined to be identified")....
In the L.A. Times story, six students are quoted. Only one is identified with a first and last name. In a town with more than 15,000 university students, the reporter could get only one student to talk on the record? That's lazy. Or worse.
Readers are left to wonder if the people quoted are even real ... like the 5-foot-2 brunette who posed for Playboy (let's see, she posed naked in a national magazine but wouldn't give her name to a reporter?) or the 19-year-old who walked "a bit unsteadily" out of Crazy Horse (where it's tough to get in, I hear, with a fake ID), but was able to deliver insightful quotes despite her age and condition, that fit just perfectly into the story.
Little has particular doubts about "Paul Greene," who described standing outside a funeral — but according to Little, the funeral was held in San Francisco. (Link picked up via Romenesko.)