New Rochelle’s Talk of the Sound website apologized and retracted an Aug. 9 post claiming the New Rochelle Police Department tried to “cover up” a “recent auto theft.” Talk‘s managing editor Robert Cox wrote that “There was no cover up, just a misunderstanding” and offered his timeline of the report and the “misunderstanding.” According to Talk of the Sound‘s website, the site seeks to “serve as New Rochelle’s town square on the web” and “anyone” can blog on the site about “whatever topic interests them.”
Cox wrote that a “concerned citizen” tipped the site off to the alleged theft of “two new Mercedes” from Pepe Luxury Cars. After that tip, Cox said he “sent a FOIL records request” to the police, but the police said “there was no such record” and the car dealership “did not return my phone call,” so Cox told the reader he couldn’t report the tip.
Cox told iMediaEthics that the tipster, who ended up writing the post that has since been retracted, is a “‘newbie’ contributor” and Cox said he had “the impression her story would be about the thefts” and not about “a perceived conspiracy between the dealership and NRPD.” However, Cox said it “turned out” after the contributor, “eastender,” posted the story, that the theft did happen but on a different date than the tipster reported, which is why the police said there weren’t records.
The Aug. 9 post in question, “Crime Coverup in New Rochelle,” is still published on the Talk of the Sound website and now carries an “Editor’s Note” consisting of a link to Cox’s “clarification…retraction and apology.” The post, by “eastender,” criticized the police, writing “It’s a sad case when a police department is not forthcoming with information that could prove invaluable to residents.”
The day after publication, the writer, “eastender,” wrote “Just discovered that the theft occurred on July 30 (according to crimemapping.com). That makes the non-reporting even worse!”
Cox responded in the comments August 14 calling for a retraction and an apology from the writer to the police because the writer “had the date wrong” making the alleged cover-up “non-existant.” Cox wrote:
“You owe the NRPD an apology for making this sort of serious allegation when you had the basic facts wrong….Put simply, there was no cover up and you need to retract that statement.”
About half an hour later, “eastender” issued that retraction, writing:
“Since I had little information to go on, I unfortunately got the date wrong — which eventually snowballed into a larger problem. Consider this a retraction of my statements, and I apologize to the NRPD. However, I stll have a concern that there was a larceny involving 2 vehicles at the Mercedes dealership in my neighborhood.”
It appears the “Crime Coverup” post is the only post “eastender” has written for Talk of the Sound.
Cox added that he wrote an additional post about the retraction because “the nature of [the blogger’s] charge was so severe — basically crimes committed by senior officials in the NRPD — that I felt it was imperative to do more than just have her make an apology/correction.”
We asked Cox if posts on Talk of the Sound are vetted by editors or contributed by bloggers. Cox wrote that he posts “a large majority of the stories myself but we have dozens of regular to somewhat regular contributors who post their own stories.” Cox added that “Anyone can register for an account and post a story on the site without editorial intervention. There are times when I get involved in post-moderating articles and comments.”
Cox said that this error will not affect “eastender’s” status in writing for the site since she “made a mistake, admitted it and took steps to correct it.” He added that “eastender” was “new to doing this and I am quite certain she learned a valuable lesson. I take some responsibility because they were new, they came to me for help on researching the story and I should have hand-held her throughut the process. Had I seen the article before she published it, I would have held it for further checking.”
We also asked Cox if all the site’s bloggers can remain anonymous if they choose. Cox explained: “When we launched in 2008, anyone could post or comment without registering. This is typical of how I start off a website. I leave it wide open and then slowly tighten it up.”
He also pointed to his July blog post updating readers of the site about changes and various elements of the site. He noted in that blog post that he “always” writes in his real name on the site, but highlighted what he called a “certain unfairness when people who have the integrity to use their own names debate with people who do not.” Moving forward, Cox suggested a new way to differentiate between anonymous and real-name users, like by setting up “a special class of registered user, a ‘fully-authenticated user'” who is on the site with a real name, not a pseudonym, and by giving some perks to the real-name users.