The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

This column is part of a series written by seniors from the pilot senior seminar on American citizenship. The class is led by its students, whose interests and experiences are as diverse as their areas of study. These columns are their lessons.

We recently led a seminar on journalism and citizenship, and when we asked our classmates how many of them had been misquoted by The Daily Tar Heel, the most-read paper on campus, about two-thirds of our 16-person class raised their hands.

The DTH plays an integral role in the shared experience of our community. It adorns the walls of restaurants on Franklin Street, a testament to its ability to powerfully capture moments in our communal history.

You might hate the paper, or you might read it every day, but few people neglect to pick it up when something happens. It’s a conversation starter at UNC.

For many students, being quoted in the DTH is the first time they see their names in print. Their interactions with the DTH not only shape their perceptions of this paper but also of the media more broadly.

It’s imperative that journalists get it right. That sounds obvious, but as veteran reporter of The (Raleigh) News & Observer and Pulitzer Prize winner Pat Stith told us, “It’s not enough to get the quote correct … That’s child’s play. What you want to do is get the truth.”

We are biased on this subject. We both worked at the DTH as reporters and editors for three years. We know the hard work it takes to produce a high-quality paper every day while simultaneously teaching new journalists.

We now work at reesenews.org, the digital publication at UNC’s journalism school, where we face many of the same challenges without the level of scrutiny the community puts on the DTH.

We’re not immune to this problem. We’ve filed our fair share of corrections to inaccurate stories. But our experience has shown how rarely we appreciate the impact an unfair story can have, often because we don’t hear from subjects after the stories run.

We saw this scenario play out in Friday’s front-page article about the Morehead-Cain Foundation’s finances. We spoke with one of the students quoted in the story, sophomore Izaak Earnhardt, and read a transcript of his interview with the DTH reporter.

By taking Earnhardt’s first quote out of context, the DTH portrayed him, intentionally or not, as an ungrateful recipient of a generous scholarship.

We are both Morehead-Cain scholars, but neither of us knew Earnhardt before the story ran.

How did this experience affect Earnhardt’s faith in journalists? He said he’d had doubts in the past about the DTH’s accuracy, but he’d provided quotes for the story about the Morehead-Cain in an effort to give the article the student perspective he thought it deserved.

But after this experience, would he give a quote to the DTH again?

“Hell, no,” he said.

Earnhardt is just a single voice in a paper that quotes dozens of them accurately every day. But based on the hands raised in our class, his experience is not unique.

It serves as a reminder to all student media, including ours, that we’re doing more than gracing the ceiling of Sutton’s — we’re shaping people’s long-lasting perceptions of the industry we care so much about.

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