The recent firing of a reporter in North Adams, Massachusetts has garnered national attention.
October 18th’s North Adams Transcript featured a story on Cheyanne Alcombright, a sophomore on the girls’ soccer team at McCann Technical High School. Alcombright had transferred from Mount Greylock Regional High School earlier this year. The story’s online version now includes an editorial note saying the article has been changed from its original version, quote “largely to remove an unsourced paragraph that editorialized on McCann's academics and athletics and Mount Greylock's social atmosphere.” The name of the original author still remains attached to the story even though he no longer is employed at the paper.
“By the end of the day I don’t have a job,” said Isaac Avilucea.
Isaac Avilucea has written a blog post titled “I Got Fired For Being a Journalist.” In it, Avilucea says he was fired because the paper received backlash from the two schools. In a lead up to a quote in the story at issue, Avilucea wrote that Alcombright chose to transfer to a school that had, in his own words, “somewhat inferior academics and athletics.” Avilucea says that line was based on Alcombright saying she feels ahead of everybody in her grade because their academics are behind those at Mount Greylock. Avilucea says Alcombright said as much during a 15-minute interview he had with her, but he did not include that quote in the story.
“Is there any way to disprove that she feels like she’s way ahead of her McCann Tech classmates?” Avilucea questioned. “No.”
Alcombright could not be reached for comment. Avilucea did include a quote that has Alcombright saying the reason she left Greylock was that she likens it to the movie Mean Girls where “they all hate each other.”
“That might be my name over that story, but that’s her story,” said Avilucea.
Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald says the school did not reach out to the Transcript about the article. That quote is still in the edited online story even though Avilucea says it played a role in his firing. He says his story was reviewed by Transcript sports editor Josh Colligan before publication, with Colligan even sending out a tweet praising the story. Avilucea says he was told by editor-in-chief Michael Foster that McCann had banned Avilucea from school grounds and Foster could not have a reporter on staff with those types of restrictions. David Rubin is a professor and former dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
“They have no right and the courts have made this clear,” Rubin said. “No right to pick and choose the journalists that they like and they don’t like based on the coverage that they’ve done. If it’s open, it’s open. Period. That’s that.”
McCann Superintendent Jim Brosnon would neither confirm nor deny to WAMC banning Avilucea from the campus. Neither Foster nor management of New England Newspapers responded to numerous requests for comment. Andrew Beaujon of Poynter Online, which reports on the media, picked up the story after Avilucea reached out to him. He says Foster told him the Transcript does not comment on personnel issues.
“They’re framing this as a personnel issue, but it’s obviously a journalism issue too,” Beaujon said.
The Transcript published an editorial apologizing for the article, drawing upon academic statistics of McCann, and saying the paper is part of the Northern Berkshire Community. Here’s Avilucea.
“What happened to independence in journalism?” asked Avilucea.
Avilucea says he wrote the blog post only after the editorial came out. Beaujon says it’s not uncommon for a daily newspaper in a small community to want to maintain good relationships with its sources.
“According to Isaac’s account, he said that one of the schools had banned him from the grounds after reporting that story,” Beaujon said. “Seems to me that that’s the next story you write rather than firing the reporter. But, it’s not my paper.”
The online story includes a note recognizing the article has drawn attention from Poytner and provides a link to a Poynter story highlighting how unclear standards are for justifying the firing of a reporter.
Links to the articles and posts referenced can be found throughout the story.