Respectful Disagreement about the Valley Patriot

by Bill Brenner on November 6, 2013

In recent months, I’ve taken the editor of one of my local newspapers to task over what I’ve seen as his overeagerness to make judgement calls.

I unfollowed Tom Duggan on Facebook at one point because I was so pissed off. Duggan and I have since had a conversation, and I want to make sure everyone understands this: I stand by my earlier criticisms. But it was in no way meant as a personal attack. In fact, I have much respect for Duggan and believe he gets it right most of the time.

Mood music:

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Let’s go back a bit in time for some context.

Duggan reached out to me after I wrote this post on the case of Erin Cox, a North Andover High senior who was punished for being at a drinking party police busted up a few weeks ago. I argued that Duggan rushed to judgement when he published an article saying Cox appeared in court on drinking charges, which turned out to be untrue.

A few months before that, I blasted him for what I saw as his overeagerness in reporting the death toll of the Boston Marathon bombings. As is usually the case in the madness of collecting breaking news, Duggan received information on the death toll that turned out to be inflated. He corrected his information as it came in. But I felt — and still do — that he was in too much of a hurry to get the news first and that he should have waited for better confirmation before blasting details all over Facebook.

In both stories, Duggan believes I took him out of context, that I unfairly painted him as a rogue editor making things up and inflating details for the hell of it. He said he had no problem with criticism as long as it was fair and not based on spliced-together bits designed to paint him in an untrue light.

So let’s clarify some things:

This isn’t about splicing details together in a manner that fits the point I want to make. It’s about my reaction to his work as it unfolded on social media.

Duggan has done a lot of good around these parts. I worked at the Eagle-Tribune for nearly five years and know that the paper was in need of real competition. I was happy to see the Valley Patriot emerge as a check on my former employer. I actually think it made the Eagle-Tribune a better paper.

Duggan has a lot of heart and a passion to get it right. My problem in recent months wasn’t that he spread lies. He didn’t. It was that he got too excitable in the face of breaking news and rushed out information that needed more verification.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of criticism many times in my career, I know it’s no fun. But I have to call it as I see it.

But understand this: When I criticize Duggan, I do so with respect for all he’s done for the community.

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