The JMU Community,
On Thursday, The Breeze published an article titled “Alger moved JMU away from transparency, skirts open meetings laws” that detailed concerns over transparency, accountability and leadership from JMU’s President Jonathan Alger and the Board of Visitors. The story was vigorously fact-checked, edited and sourced for accuracy.
Later Thursday evening, President Alger wrote a letter to The Breeze responding to the story, expressing his disappointment over the “tone, the tenor and the inaccuracies of fact within this article.” The Breeze has since published that letter on our website.
In an email to the JMU Media Board, which includes The Breeze’s Editor-in-Chief Katelyn Waltemyer, Caitlyn Read, the university spokesperson and director of communications, and me, Read said the following:
“The Breeze has violated the most foundational journalist ethics in this article related to providing context, considering sources’ motives and supporting an open exchange of views. In not asking President Alger or the administration for comment on this piece, except to confirm the existence of the preparatory calls less than three hours ahead of publishing, The Breeze has without question failed to ‘diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.’ This is a key component of ethical journalism outlined by the Society for Professional Journalists.”
Given Read's and Alger's concerns, The Breeze invited Alger to an interview on the broadcast show Friday to follow up on the initial story and asked Alger if he’d be interested in an interview for a follow-up online story focusing on his perspective. Read never responded to the request for Alger to join the show and per Read, Alger declined to be interviewed for an online article and said the following:
“The time to ask for an interview with President Alger was prior to publication of the article, not following publication of a piece that clearly violated very basic journalistic standards,” Read wrote. “Mr. Alger is declining the invitation to interview as we have already responded in writing, in great length, to the inaccuracies presented in your already-published article.”
Katelyn Waltemyer, our editor-in-chief, has complete authority over all editorial decisions made by The Breeze. She may pursue or receive guidance, but not oversight, from JMU faculty members, the JMU Media Board or me. As executive editor, I am tasked with ensuring our organization lives up to the highest journalistic and ethical standards.
The university spokesperson’s assertion that our organization has violated “basic journalistic standards” deeply concerns me, and it’s not something we take lightly at The Breeze. As with any concerns about Breeze coverage, I will personally review these concerns, specifically the reporting and editing process and the ethics behind the story published Thursday. We will also seek guidance from professionals inside and outside of the university about any changes we need to make in our reporting processes.
Let me be clear, though: The Breeze stands behind the facts of the story and the decision to publish, which was made by Editor-in-Chief Katelyn Waltemyer. We stand behind the editorial staff and the reporting by Jake Conley. The story was vigorously fact-checked, edited and sourced for accuracy.
It has always been our mission to tell the most accurate story of the JMU community, and we feel that communicating to our audience the university’s concerns as well as our confidence in the story as a factual representation of our reporting is the most appropriate and transparent course of action.
We have heard both Read’s and Alger’s concerns. However, we stand by the facts of the story.
Executive Editor, The Breeze