The Truth About Krispy Kreme

donuts

They’re awesome, particularly chocolate frosted.

But that’s not the truth I want to talk about.  Instead, now that it has been officially confirmed that Krispy Kreme is opening a location in Auburn, I’m referencing a tweet I posted a month ago:

Doughnuts and journalists have a long and storied relationship.  An old-school joke asks, “What’s the hardest thing when a copy desk staffer dies? Prying the doughnut out of his cold dead hands.”

Journalistically speaking, the story was a fun experience, and it provided the basis for some fun lessons on how to source and when to tweet:

Protecting a Source

I originally caught wind of the Krispy Kreme story through a friend who told me how excited her husband was that we would be getting the purveyor of hot doughnuts.  She had heard the news from a family member, whom I also knew.

So I contacted the family member, and he (only clue you will get) confirmed that, indeed, Krispy Kreme was planning to locate in Auburn.  So I started from there.

Even though we are not dealing with the identity of CIA agents or U.S. policy in Iraq, I will not tell you who my source was.  He was not authorized to announce it, and while neither of us would have gotten thrown in jail, it is still information worth keeping confidential.

The worst thing any journalist can do is burn a source. First, it shows dishonesty toward the source.  Second, you are costing yourself good future sources.  Any source with worthwhile information is probably doing to do his/her homework on you, and can easily tell if you have revealed another source’s identity.

When to Tweet

I had the information from one source, and it was a reliable source.  But I did not want to move too quickly, particularly on this topic.

In January 2014, someone set up a fake Instagram account and announced that Krispy Kreme would be coming to Auburn.  It got a lot of excited tweets, followed by some crestfallen follow-up tweets after the national office exposed the fake.

Krispy Kreme did send a retro bus with free donuts later that week.  I actually got a heads-up on that news from a friend at Auburn, via e-mail.  Even then, I was afraid to announce the bus’s visit via Twitter, and sent him a nervous e-mail to make sure it was true.

It was and the bus came — no, not freshly made, but I still ate a couple.  But KK fans in Auburn returned to yearning and trips to Columbus/Montgomery.

Thus, I had no interest in putting out a Krispy Kreme tweet that was not true.  I called around to some folks in the City of Auburn for confirmation, but could not get a second source to confirm.

Then, I saw some authentic paperwork related to the new site (again, no help on the source).  In my mind, that represented a second reliable, independent source.  I talked to a couple of journalism colleagues, and they liked the information too, as well as the prospects of those hot, fresh doughnuts.

Even so, for about three days, I held off on the tweet, mainly because of the previous reaction.  I called around to my city sources again, but no help.

Finally, by June 17, I had to decide to go with what I had.  To be honest, one big factor in my decision was that I had tired of the internal back-and-forth.  I just wanted to get it over with, and decided the information was good enough.

The point is: fear of getting it wrong is always the right response for a journalist.  We need to be as positive as possible before giving out the news.  To throw something out there and then shrug when it’s wrong — as often as it happens — is the wrong response.  We are only as credible as our information, and we should guard both zealously.

So, I clicked on “Tweet” for the above. It got great response, as I expected, along with pleas that I not mess with folks’ hearts.  I assured them that I would never tweet the info if I did not feel it was solid. Still …

What If It’s Not True?

I will admit that I spent a nervous couple of days, fearing a denial by the Krispy Kreme main office.  The longer I waited, the better I felt.

But another doubt emerged: What if Krispy Kreme pulled the plans on the new site? Or what if all of the redevelopment near Auburn Mall took so long that it delayed our doughnuts?

As I checked various sources online and on social media, I came to a nervous discovery: The Krispy Kreme corporate account was following me.  It was not a recent follow after the news; they started following me during the January 2014 debacle.

So that made me feel better, because they had known about it pretty quickly and had said nothing.  It also made me wonder: If I had remembered that before the tweet, would I still have done it?  I don’t have to worry about the answer to that question, but I am glad I didn’t remember.

But, of course, the Facebook post by Elizabeth White of WTVM in Columbus confirmed everything, and I allowed myself a little bit of gloating to hide my relief.

So now, I guess there is nothing to do but let the construction process take its time, and then join the rush.

I will see you there, and we can raise a hot glazed or a chocolate-frosted to a fun story with a happy ending.

Is Disclosing Medical Records an Unhealthy Reporting Method?

First published on al.com.  Click here.

Note: This column includes implied obscenity in a tweet presented later in the article.

To anyone who doesn’t know, ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter caused quite the ethical dust-up when he ran a tweet showing Jason Pierre-Paul’s medical records.

To quickly dismiss one objection: no, Schefter did not break the law.  He did not violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) by showing it.  The medical professional who leaked the info to Schefter did.

Schefter is not in legal hot water for disclosing information, even if someone else obtained illegally.  The Supreme Court decided that in Bartnicki v. Vopper, where a radio station played illegally wiretapped conversation between teachers union officials during tense negotiations in Wilkes Barre, Pa.

The court found “a stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.”  Schefter operates under the same shield.

That might sound like the equivalent of accepting stolen property and getting away with it, but the Supreme Court treats news-related information differently.

But law does not equal ethics.  The question is, did Schefter violate journalistic ethics here?  As with many such questions, the answer is determined by where you stand on ethics.  There is, however, another issue here, a constant with ESPN: ethical transparency.

Many argue that Schefter should have declined to show Pierre-Paul’s medical records and merely reported the information, anonymously sourced.  Showing an individual’s private medical information crossed a line, to them.

What is troubling to me — and always has troubled me — is that ESPN ignored its commitment, as a news media organization, to be transparent about this ethical decision.  I watched Schefter’s live report on ESPN SportsCenter.  It was all news, zero reflection.

In its September 2014 revision to its code of ethics, less than a year ago, the Society of Professional Journalists added the words “and transparent” to its fourth major standard, “be accountable.”

The resulting exhortation, “Be Accountable and Transparent,” includes the following sentences of explanation and application: “Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. … Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.”

As I write this blog, ESPN has not done this and certainly did not choose to do this early in its reporting.  It could have been handled so simply — with two or three sentences of explanation by Schefter.  But for whatever reason, Schefter and his producers decided not to take the time, even with the existence of ethical disagreement within the profession and the audience.

I wrote about this in al.com a couple of years ago — regarding Joe Schad’s reporting of alleged autograph selling by Johnny Manziel.  It is sad to see that apparently nothing has changed.

Don’t expect to hear from ESPN on this through its ombudsman blog.  The network has not updated the blog since Dec. 3, 2014, when Robert Lipsyte ended an excellent stint.  It is a sad, and telling, omission.

So where does it go from here? Nowhere?  Maybe not.

I see another layer to this debate, and it relates to Schefter’s relationship with his anonymous sources within the league.  Note the following tweet by former Steeler James Harrison:

Apologies for Harrison’s language, but it does raise the question: How will Schefter’s sources within the league respond to this?  One reason a journalist never breaks a pledge to an anonymous source, even risking imprisonment, is because of the damage it would cause to other source relationships, and these are an investigative journalist’s lifeblood.

It will be interesting to see if Schefter gets any pushback from his sources — players, agents or team officials — because of this.  Players might punish him for damaging an unsigned colleague’s negotiating power.  Agents and team officials might be more likely to look the other way.

All of these considerations weigh in to a serious ethical discussion in a matter like this.  And as the SPJ code encourages, and ESPN once again ignored, it’s best to include your audience in that ethical discussion.

John Carvalho is an associate professor of journalism at Auburn University.  A former sports journalist himself, he discusses sports media issues at @John_P_Carvalho.

 

Auburn President Dr. William L. Broun: No Heritage of Hate

BrounWith the renewed focus on the Confederate battle flag and what it symbolizes, schools and other public institutions in the South are also taking a look at their history.  Do colleges and universities, building a tradition of instilling the highest values, harbor in their past individuals who worked against principles of equality?  Do they honor these individuals by naming buildings after them?

Clemson is facing such a debate over the legacy of Benjamin Tillman. Faculty have demanded a building named after him be renamed, particularly in light of the recent calls to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds.

It’s a valid debate, and the answer is rarely simple — 100 percent in one direction or the other.  But it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Take, for example, Auburn’s fourth president, Dr. William L. Broun, whom Broun Hall is named after.  Before coming to Auburn, the Virginia native fought in the Civil War.  Should Auburn be concerned?  It’s a valid question.  Let’s read the evidence.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Broun was actually headmaster of a private school in the state when war broke out.  He did not serve in a combat position, but was superintendent of ordnance for the CSA army, at the rank of major.  He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel and named commandant of the Richmond arsenal.

Some war historians claim that Broun issued the last major command of the conflict — the order to blow up the arsenal before advancing armies could arrive, shortly before Lee’s surrender.

But what about Broun’s attitudes toward issues like slavery?  Did his views reflect the region’s racial hatred of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era?

We are fortunate that the library has a book of Broun’s life and words, assembled by his family after his death, on its shelves.  It’s an excellent starting point (and saves the hassle of going through his papers).  The book is titled “Dr. William L. Broun,” and its call number is LA2317 .B7A3.

Broun did in fact speak about the Civil War, on Memorial Day in 1891.  In recalling the discussions leading up to the war, Broun reminded his listeners of the personal turmoil he and members of the UVA community faced.  Theirs was the legacy of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, in intellect and politics.

Broun told his audience, “Slavery was not the cause of the war; it was the occasion, not the cause.  It was not for silver and gold, not for slavery, not for property in any form, that your fathers suffered the hardships of four long years of war.”

He claimed, as many have since then, that the cause was “to maintain what they regarded the rights of the States.”

Broun did not leave it there, however.  Later in his speech, he declared, “But in the wisdom of an omniscient Providence the question of the right of secession, thus referred to the arbitration of the field, was decided amid the thunders of artillery irrevocably and forever.”

In his opinion, the United States would continue as a sovereign unified country —
one people, one nation, under one flag.”

So while Broun would seem to side with those who sidestep the slavery issue, he definitely saw secession as a dead issue, post-war.  But did Broun have personal experience with slaveholding?

Broun and his father-in-law, Dr. George Fleming, bought a plantation in Houston County, Virginia, during the war, and Broun moved his family there.  Apparently Dr. Fleming was a slaveowner, and his slaves were sent to the plantation.

“When my wife reached there she found the old servants that knew her well, and they were all glad to see her,” Broun wrote.  “They regarded us as their protectors after the war was over, and I hired them for the next year, preparatory to planting cotton.”

While these can still be problematic words to some, they are certainly preferable to the racial hostility expressed in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Alabama politicians, some of whom have buildings named after them.

Beyond that, nothing of Broun’s that is included in the book — in correspondent or memoir form — addresses race-related topics.  He does show a progressive spirit, advocating for the education of women at Auburn during one non-dated baccalaureate address and does so without condescension.

Broun’s most enduring and visible contribution to the campus is the reconstructed Samford Hall, which was built after its predecessor burned in 1887.  He also was behind the renaming of the University from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical to Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

But his most important contribution might have been his role, as one of the South’s most respected educators, in building Auburn’s academic reputation.  When he died in 1902 at age 72 — while getting ready to go to work — colleagues and journalists hailed his life and work.

In discussing Broun’s life, it must be acknowledged that other building namesakes do not fare as well, on balance, particularly those named after Alabama governors.

The racist speeches of Gov. B.B. Comer (1907-1911), for whom Comer Hall is named, are easily found, as is his family’s usage of leased convict labor — an inhumane system that he perpetuated as governor.

And Gov. David Bibb Graves (1927-1931, 1935-1939), for whom Graves Amphitheatre is named, though progressive in his philosophy, used his Klan leadership to political advantage and blocked his attorney general from prosecuting floggers, though he resigned his Klan membership soon after he was elected governor.

But their legacies deserve a deeper treatment, and they are not as closely tied to Auburn as Broun was.

When Dr. William L. Broun’s life and legacy are examined, it’s wrong to categorize him with the Benjamin Tillmans.  True, he was in many ways a product of his times, but his times — and Auburn — were better because of him.