Editor’s Note: COVID rules eased; notes on a retraction

We retracted a story — here’s why. Also: NYU’s reopening, @nyuaffirmations, “Euphoria.”

Alex Tey, Editor-in-Chief


Editor's Note

February 5, 2022
Editor’s Note is a weekly newsletter from WSN’s Editor-in-Chief that brings you the week’s top stories — and the stories behind the stories.
Hi everyone!

Welcome back to another edition of Editor’s Note.

This newsletter has been sort of a promise to its readers that we would let you in on some of the decisions that happen behind the scenes. Earlier this week we made one of those decisions, and I think it’s worth recounting our process to you.

First, though, here are the week’s top stories.

This week's news

NYU began easing its COVID-19 restrictions on Friday. On Monday, NYU students will be able to eat in dining halls, meet in person, work out in gyms, visit each other’s dorms and more. Students will be expected to attend class in person. The university’s COVID positivity rate has fallen from the omicron spike to less than a percent above fall 2021 levels.

Angela Davis discussed Black global consciousness at a virtual event hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi to kick off NYU’s Black History Month and MLK Week events. Keep scrolling to read more about this article.

A Feb. 1 rally in Lower Manhattan protested against anti-Asian hate one year after an 84-year-old Thai American was killed in San Francisco and two weeks after Michelle Go was killed at the Times Square subway station. Go’s death and other subway crimes are worrying some NYU students.

Arts and culture

No one loves to hate NYU like NYU students. Joyce Li spoke with the three anonymous admins behind my personal favorite NYU meme page, NYU Affirmations.

Alex Tran celebrated a bittersweet Lunar New Year.

Mitski’s new album, “Laurel Hell,” is her first in four years and ends a two-year hiatus. I wrote about how the album is both dark and danceable.

“At the intersection of Phoebe Bridgers and Japanese Breakfast is 25-year-old Samia Finnerty,” Lorena Campes writes in her review of Samia’s East Village concert.
WSN columns

Listen to This reviewed a posthumous XXXTENTACION release and new tracks from Rex Orange County, Wallows and more.

The Soapbox recapped killings of Mexican journalists, militia attacks in Congo and the death of ISIS’s leader during a U.S. raid.

Monday’s edition of the Daybook will feature the New York Philharmonic’s Lunar New Year concert (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.) and an exhibit at The National Jazz Museum inspired by Pixar’s “Soul” (opens Thursday). Check your inbox on Monday morning for more things to do in the coming week.

Chief Justice John Roberts has long asserted the political independence of the Supreme Court. With Justice Stephen Breyer set to retire, “it’s time for the chief justice to prove that he means it,” this week’s house editorial argues. (On Thursday, Politico’s John Harris joined us in calling for Roberts to step down.)

Reopening the campus was the right call, Alexandra Cohen writes.

A letter to the editor from a former NYU English Language Institute student mourns the “tragic” loss of the ELI.

Srishti Bungle criticizes the representation of marginalized people in “Euphoria.” Sade Collier addresses fat representation specifically. (If you’re like me and don’t watch the show but want to keep up because “Euphoria” is all anyone posts about anymore, Shreya Wankhade recapped episodes three and four for our Arts desk.)
Behind the scenes of our retraction process

What happened?

Early Thursday afternoon, it was brought to the managing team’s attention that there were some issues with a piece we had published that morning — some serious issues. The article, which ran in our news section, covered a virtual discussion on Black global consciousness that kicked off NYU’s MLK Week and Black History Month programming.

A WSN news writer who was also covering that event noticed that there were some quotes that were reproduced incorrectly, and the errors didn’t stop there. There were some cases where the author seemed to mix up who was speaking and attributed quotes and fragments to the wrong person. It seemed like the quotes had been transcribed from memory, not a recording.

This news writer, though, did have a recording, and a transcript. They provided our news editors and managing team with a list of errors and why they mattered, and we immediately saw the problem.

These errors in quote transcription took the account of the event in a misleading direction — because these quotes were wrong, the way the event was described became inaccurate. The original author’s interpretation of the meaning and context of the conversation wasn’t grounded in what the speakers actually said.

It happened that this was taking place while I was on the way to the photoshoot for our staff profiles, so I was able to discuss what was going on with the news editors and most of the managing team. 

I talked to our managing editor on the phone while walking to the shoot, then with the involved staff who were there, then on the phone with our adviser. We came to a conclusion that, given the fundamental errors that were made, a retraction was necessary. Even thorough corrections wouldn’t be enough to take accountability for the infractions of journalistic integrity that took place.

That afternoon, we drafted the statement that would run on the page:
On Thursday, Feb. 3, WSN published a piece about an online seminar hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi featuring Angela Davis. This article did not meet WSN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. The article misquoted and misrepresented the people it depicted and was unlisted from WSN’s site at 1:50 p.m. the same day. WSN regrets the error.
We also had to decide how we would run the new article that would replace the retracted one. We ultimately decided our social media posts promoting the new article would include a note on the retraction in ways that would be seen by our audience without overshadowing the new, correct article. The new article and the social media posts went up on Friday morning.

Why did we issue a retraction instead of a correction?

Journalists avoid retractions at all costs. We do everything we can to prevent needing to retract a story in the first place, then only do so when it’s really necessary. At first I didn’t think it was necessary in this case.

Initially, I wanted to remedy this with a correction. I thought that if we fixed the quotes, added a correction notice to the top of the story, and posted on social media to notify our audience of the mistake, that was sufficient.

That changed as I came to understand the scope of the problem and the way the misquotations affected the rest of the story. It became clear to me that the kinds of mistakes that happened weren’t just transcription errors — there were procedural failures in the reporting, writing and editing process that were not the writer’s responsibility alone.

With input from our news editors on the severity of the errors, from the rest of our managing team on how to respond to them, and from our adviser on how to implement a retraction, I made the decision to retract.

Why did we remove the article from the site?

We don’t want incorrect information out there, even if it’s to show our mistakes. Even with a retraction notice, leaving the page up would disrespect the people who were being misquoted.

That’s why we deleted the text of the original article — replacing it with a statement on the retraction — and unlisted it (without deleting it) from our site. That’s not because we don’t want people to see that we made a mistake (if that was the case, you wouldn’t be reading this newsletter), but rather because it doesn’t serve our readers as much as our other articles that actually give them useful news and commentary.

The goal, which I think we accomplished, is to make it more difficult to find than our other pages while leaving the page itself intact as a record of the error.

Why am I telling you all this?

One of my priorities as editor-in-chief is transparency — I want to give you, our reader, a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes at WSN. That was one of the values that led me to start this newsletter, actually.

Issuing a retraction is one of those processes that’s often hidden from public view, and deliberately so. Some publications attempt to cover up the mistake by silently taking down pages or making surreptitious edits.

I don’t want to amplify our failure too much, but there’s a learning opportunity in every mistake. I think this one is a chance for our audience to learn about how we make these kinds of decisions as well as for us to learn how to avoid having something like this happen again.

I hope that our handling of this mistake earns back any trust that you lost for us as a result of that article.

How will we prevent these errors in the future?

As the editor-in-chief, I have to consider myself personally responsible for these kinds of errors. In this case, it’s not just because I oversee the publication — I was the one who made the final round of edits and uploaded the piece to our site.

The author of the article holds some responsibility for these mistakes, and we’ve discussed that with them, but ultimately what we publish is the editor-in-chief’s responsibility. I believe that any blame should fall on me, not the writer. While I stand by our work when it deserves defending, I own up to our mistakes when we make them. Part of that responsibility is doing whatever I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The first step is emphasizing the importance of the proper handling and reproduction of quotes to our staff. A previously scheduled staff training this week will have an added focus on accurately recording quotes and interpreting meaning from them.

Our editors will also be more careful to make sure that their writers have recordings or trustworthy transcriptions of any interviews they conduct or events they cover. In the future, we won’t hesitate to hold articles with suspect quotes until recordings or transcriptions can be obtained.

We hope we won't have to make a retraction again. But if we do, we're more prepared to handle it because of this experience.

In conclusion

All publications try to avoid needing to issue corrections and retractions, but at times there will be mistakes that must be made right. I don’t want to amplify this mistake, but I do want to own it. I felt that you, the reader, deserved an explanation of how these decisions happen.

Thanks for bearing with me through this longer-than-usual Editor’s Note. (You can now view past editions of this newsletter at nyunews.com/editors-note.) As always, you can submit letters to the editor to [email protected], and feel free to reach out to me directly at the email down below. You can also find me on Twitter at @teythemtheirs.

That’s it for this week. Until next Saturday,
—the editor

Alex Tey
[email protected]

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