When presented with evidence of errors in its stories, the Wichita Eagle, Kansas’ largest newspaper, is not being responsive in correcting its errors.
On July 12, the Eagle ran the story 84th District race a repeat for 2 candidates, highlighting the two Democratic Party candidates for a Kansas House of Representatives district. The article said there was no Republican filer, when in fact Dan Heflin had filed as a Republican. This could be seen clearly at either the Kansas Secretary of State’s listing of candidates, or at the Sedgwick County Election Office’s listing.
The article was written by “courtney looney,” a name I wasn’t familiar with at the Eagle. I couldn’t find an email address or telephone number, so I couldn’t contact the reporter directly. I, and one other person, left a comment to the story calling attention to the error. As of today, the error is still in the story. I couldn’t find evidence of a correction.
In another example, on August 10 the Wichita Eagle printed the story Kansas’ justice-selection process unique, in which the reporter wrote: “Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate and approval of the governor. Then the issue goes to voters during a general election.”
The process is described correctly except for the role of the governor. Unlike regular legislation, the governor does not sign or approve a constitutional amendment. The only parties involved are the legislature and the people voting on the amendment in an election.
In this case, I knew the identity of the reporter, so I sent an email message about this error. A comment writer called attention to the error, too. I never got a response, and the story still appears on the Wichita Eagle website with the error intact. Finally, on August 17 the Eagle printed a correction.
The story was printed in the Lawrence Journal-World under an Associated Press byline, and the error was there, too. The story may have been printed in other newspapers.
For a final example, on August 11 the Eagle printed the story Wichita City Council OKs tax districts, in which the reporter wrote: “The approval means the hotel can charge an extra cent or two of sales tax for up to 22 years, with the revenue rebated to them after the state and city remove 7 percent in administrative fees. That will mean about $9.6 million in revenue from the extra sales tax for the $12 million hotel.”
John Todd, a friend of mine with an interest in this issue, called me and asked me if it was true that the extra sales tax this hotel can charge through the Kansas Community Improvement District program would be worth $9.6 million over 22 years as reported. I said no, the CID is just one part of a package of subsidies the city created for this project, with the total package being worth $9.6 million or thereabouts. The total package is reported on at Waterwalk hotel deal breaks new ground for Wichita subsidies.
A simple back-of-the-napkin calculation can confirm this, using publicly available sources of data: The hotel may have up to 130 rooms. A study commissioned by the city regarding this hotel found that “In 2008, the proposed Fairfield Inn’s competitive set’s average daily rate was $86.31.” In January, Goody Clancy, the firm planning the revitalization of downtown Wichita, said that Wichita hotels are doing well with an occupancy rate of about 67 percent, with a companion chart showing downtown hotels at about 70 percent.
Doing the arithmetic (130 rooms times $86.31 daily rate times 365 days per year times 70 percent occupancy factor times two percent CID tax rate) results in about $57,336 in revenue per year from the CID tax. Or over the 22 year life of the CID, about $1.3 million. It’s possible the hotel might generate additional CID revenue through sales of drinks or other incidentals, but this would likely be a small amount.
Even if one disputes the assumptions and substitutes a higher room rate or occupancy factor, there’s no way the CID will come close to generating the revenue the Eagle article reports.
Todd called the reporter, and the reporter was insistent that the reported figures are correct, saying he received them from Wichita economic development director Allen Bell. I think this means we shouldn’t expect a correction.
It’s part of human nature to make mistakes. I do, and when I do, often I get an email from someone at the Wichita Eagle notifying me of such. When I realize I have made a mistake, I correct it, as can be seen in this example.
But the Wichita Eagle isn’t doing the same in a timely manner, and sometimes not at all.
It’s not as though I’m disagreeing with opinions presented in editorials on the opinion page (and people in Wichita have enough trouble with those). The problems here are with facts that can easily be verified. In particular, when the Eagle mistakenly reports the governor’s role in amending the constitution, and then doesn’t quickly issue a correction and leaves the erroneous story on its website, I think we have a problem.