Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Can't Any Reporter Find Out at What's Going on with HandMade?

On January 23, RandomAsheville asked why the Asheville Citizen-Times had two stories in two days about the sudden departure of Geraldine Plato as executive director of HandMade in America.  Then no follow-up to get any deeper into the story.

“Is there more going on with Handmade in America that citizens in this crafts-centric town should know about?,” I asked.  “Should either of our newspapers be telling us?

On February 23, Rebecca Sulock, the features editor of Mountain Xpress, published an article with a semi-tabloid style headline: “Craft community still reeling from HandMade director’s departure.”  While not citing many sources to back up the community-reeling claim, she did quote letters from Rob Pulleyn and Andrew Glasgow to the HandMade board expressing their concerns.  And she did follow-up with Glasgow for further comments.

Pulleyn, the founder of Fiber Arts magazine and Lark Books, and himself a potter, and Andrew Glasgow, former executive director of The Furniture Society and then the American Craft Council, are important figures in crafts locally and nationally, so their views gave weight to Sulock’s story.

But unfortunately she came to a dead end with HandMade’s interim executive director (and former board member) Elizabeth Russell.  As Sulock might have expected, Russell would not - and could not -  comment on the organization’s reasons for personnel action.

So readers are not much further along than we were with the Citizen-Times articles.

Some questions for Sulock and her editors:

Were Pulleyn and Glasgow not able to give you other sources?

Did you try to contact Geraldine Plato?  If she had a “no comment,” why wasn’t that reported in the story?  What is Plato doing now?  Has she taken another position?

Did you contact Becky Anderson?  Another “no comment?”  How many of the board members of HandMade and its separate foundation did you contact to find out if there were any dissenters?  Could you have, should you have asked them to go off the record to give you background and better information?

The Citizen-Times does not use anonymous sources, except in extraordinary circumstances, and then has procedures to vet and verify what they are being told.  So the kind of hard-hitting reporting that might be called “investigative” doesn’t get done.
What is Mountain Xpress’s policy on anonymous sources?  Should they be used more frequently, under clear guidelines, to get at stories the Citizen-Times can’t touch?

Is there any way an enterprising reporter can crack this story?

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