The foundation of good journalism is unadulterated truth. After all, what good is a newspaper if it doesn’t provide its readers with the facts?
At the beginning of every school year, the Journalism class starts our curriculum with a long-standing tradition to acclimate our new writers, and to remind our returning writers of our values. A lesson on plagiarism and fact-checking emphasizes the importance of always making sure that every word that we print is honest because the consequences of publishing falsehoods can be grave.
On Oct. 16, the Journalism class was writing and editing as usual when Editor-in-Chief Brady Burman-Magday asked senior staff writer Andrew Humm if he had read the article about him in The Washington Post.
Humm was surprised by this, as he evidently hadn’t heard about any such article. A quick Google Search remedied this, and several students gathered around one computer to scrutinize the result: an article in The Washington Post Online, published just three days earlier.
The article, titled “Howard County football: Mount Hebron linebacker Matt Leone kicks and covers,” was actually not about Humm, but rather about junior Matt Leone, who recently stepped up as kicker of the Varsity football team.
Humm read through several sentences about Leone before he stumbled across his own name, in a paragraph that read, “Andrew Humm had an achey hamstring, so Mount Hebron turned to Leone, a weakside linebacker and goal line back who has since given up soccer for lacrosse, to set the tone.”
Humm, a star Track & Field athlete, was once a football player. But he hasn’t played on the Mt. Hebron team since 2012.
“Naturally, I was confused,” said Humm. “My hamstrings are fine, and I haven’t played football since my sophomore year.”
It had to have been some sort of mistake. But a mistake in The Washington Post, arguably one of the most reputable and recognized periodicals in the nation, found by the staff of a high school newspaper? That’s the ultimate irony.
Humm, who is currently speaking with scouts and coaches about pursuing track at the collegiate level, was worried about the error causing discrepancies in his reputation as an athlete.
“My [track] coach will find this really funny,” chuckled Humm sarcastically upon discovering the article.
However, the mistake still needed fixing.
On Humm’s behalf, I looked up the writer in the article’s byline and found Gabe Hiatt, a freelance writer for All Met Sports, a division of the Post that focuses on high school sports.
With my personal account, I reached out to Hiatt via Twitter and tweeted at him a link to the article, saying, “Fact check next time? There are errors in this article!”
He tweeted back hours later with an email address, asking me to clarify what the errors were. So I emailed him and told him that Andrew Humm was likely not the droid he was looking for.
Hiatt responded, thanking me for my vigilance and clarifying that the error was merely a typo, and that Humm was listed as the kicker on a previous roster from when he played for the football team two years ago. The intended subject of that sentence was sophomore Andrew Smith, who actually did have to step down as kicker due to hamstring troubles. Hiatt assured me that he would amend the error online.
To date, the article remains unchanged, though Hiatt has published several other articles since then. It is likely that editing privileges lie with some other entity.
Although a catastrophic error was not made, it was a good lesson to our class that these sorts of things do happen, even in the professional world.
If you would like to read the article, check out this link: