Ombudsman: Some Notes from Summer Crimson

Although editors decided this year not to publish a print edition of the paper over the summer, The Crimson continued producing weekly online-only issues. So here’s a wrap-up of a few issues that came across my proverbial desk since May.

On Sept. 10, Carlos J. Montañez, a planner at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, e-mailed me and two Crimson staffers to ask for a correction of an Aug. 10 article about a community meeting concerning Harvard’s Allston development project. The article said Montañez attended the meeting and quoted him several times. In his email, Montañez said he was neither at the meeting nor did he say the quoted sentences, and he, quite understatedly, was “curious as to why I was quoted.”
It turns out the reporter, who does not normally cover Allston issues, had thought she had heard the BRA official who spoke referred to as “Carlos.” When she found out there was a Carlos who was a planner for BRA, she assumed she had it right, Crimson Managing Editor Javier C. Hernandez ‘08 told me last month.
Journalism professors like to strut out a series of aphorisms about why reporters shouldn’t assume anything. I need not rehash those sayings. Why tell when I can show?
Turns out the name the reporter heard was “Kairos.” Kairos Shen happens to be the director of planning at the BRA.
Unfortunately, it took editors two more weeks to confirm that Shen was, in fact, the speaker who was quoted. Until late last month the article appeared on the Crimson Web site with an odd correction, noting that Montañez was not at the meeting and did not say the things attributed to him. “This correction will be updated as soon as the identity of the actual speaker is verified,” the note concluded.
Two weeks, of course, is too long to get something right that should have been gotten right nearly two months earlier.

No one complained, but I thought it odd: On July 13, The Crimson ran a story about N. Gregory Mankiw, who teaches an introductory economics courses that is one of the most popular in the college and who was President Bush’s chief economic adviser from 2003 to 2005.
The story said he was now “facing a new and perhaps even more public challenge—the wrath of online bloggers.” One would hope that being a top White House adviser is more challenging than being a professor, even one being discussed in the blogosphere, but that’s a mere quibble.
My gripe is that I couldn’t quite figure out why this story was written. The gist was that bloggers were complaining about Bush’s 2003 tax cuts and the way Mankiw’s views had apparently changed (against tax cuts before he worked for Bush, pro-cuts once he did).
Mankiw, meanwhile, said he wasn’t actually working for Bush when the tax cuts were adopted, and offered a defense of his shifting position. All fine, but this seems to boil down to a few people complaining about four-year-old tax cuts and the economic views of a Bush adviser who hasn’t worked for Bush for two years. Not typically the stuff of front-page news.
Malcom A. Glenn ’09, who was The Crimson’s summer editor, said he didn’t remember how he came to assign the story, although he pointed out that Mankiw “is a big figure on campus,” so recent criticism over years-old actions might be newsworthy. Still, a conservative reader might have reason to think The Crimson has a political ax to grind.
Mankiw isn’t apparently that reader. He declined last week to comment on The Crimson’s coverage of him.

Michael Kolber is The Crimson’s ombudsman and a Harvard Law School student. He has written a column, responding to reader complaints with his independent critiques of The Crimson. This is his fourth and final column.