Gannett-owned news site NorthJersey.com’s sports article described high school football coaches as “classless” and “idiotic.” Was it fair game? The editors apparently decided it wasn’t, but only after the fact, because those critical descriptions were removed from the online version of the story after publication.
NorthJersey.com’s Mike Lamberti’s Sept. 2 story was headlined,”Unnecessary injury mars Belleville opener.” A Google cache of the story shows that Lamberti’s piece opened with the sentence:
“Belleville dropped its season opener but it left the field a winner, while a classless coaching staff from Newark West Side could learn something about football etiquette.”
One reader sent iMediaEthics a scan of the print edition, asking about the changes from print to online.
Lamberti continued to say that a player’s injury was “completely unnecessary” and that “any coach with a pinnacle of class” would have acted differently than the coach for Newark West Side. The characterization didn’t come from the competing team, because Lamberti noted that Belleville’s coach, Mario Cuniglio, “never mentioned” what he called West Side’s “poor sportsmanship.” See below a screenshot of the original article.
The article was first published Sept. 2. The current version, which says it was updated on Sept. 5, now labels the article “commentary” and removes the negative characterizations of Newark West Side. At the bottom of the article is a “note” that simply reads, “This article has been edited since its original posting.” The note doesn’t acknowledge that the article was later labeled commentary or that critical comments of a high school football team’s coach were removed.
iMediaEthics spoke with Rick Green, the Editor/Vice President of Content for North Jersey Media Group. Green told iMediaEthics that essentially what happened is that Lamberti, a freelancer, “wrote a column instead of a game story,” and that because it was during the opening weekend of high school football, it slipped through to publication.
While Green said he never heard from anyone with complaints about the article, he had the site add “the commentary label, which it should have been, tone it down — we don’t call people idiots — and give [the freelancer] directions.”
iMediaEthics has also written to Lamberti to ask what happened.