Absolute worst newspaper: Why this one goes on 'Shame List' for journalism malpractice

And the winner — er, loser — is: the Charlotte Observer.

Congrats to that "newspaper" (scare quotes intentional) for its abysmal coverage of the latest publicity-seeking "Shame List" produced by the gay-rights organization Campus Pride.

It's difficult to imagine that Campus Pride — which targets higher education schools that espouse traditional biblical beliefs on sexuality and gender identity — could buy a more one-sided, biased treatment than the Charlotte Observer gave it for (one assumes) free.

The "reporter" even included a #gaypride hashtag when he tweeted the story:

Let's brush aside, for the purposes of this post, whether the "Shame List" is actually news. For the sake of argument, we'll stipulate that it is. After all, the Charlotte Observer wasn't the only regional newspaper nationwide that took the bait: Others included the Dallas Morning News, the Oregonian and the Salt Lake Tribune.

So if it is news, what would be the fairest, most accurate way for a journalistically responsible news organization to report the list's release? We'll get to the answer in a moment.

But just so everybody's on the same page, let's first review the Charlotte Observer's lede:

Charlotte-based Campus Pride, one of the nation’s leading advocates for LGBT college students, released its annual Shame List Monday, highlighting “The Absolute Worst Campuses for LGBTQ Youth.” Eight Carolinas colleges are on it.
In all, the national listing includes 102 campuses that Campus Pride says openly discriminate against LGBTQ youth in policies, programs and practices as documented on the site listing. In nearly every case, the Carolinas colleges included are religious-based.
Among the eight Carolinas colleges are Charlotte Christian and Theological Seminary, which Campus Pride says has applied for an exemption to Title IX in order to discriminate against its students on the bases of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy or receipt of abortion while still receiving federal funds.
Belmont Abbey College in Gaston County, also qualified for the Shame List because it holds an exemption to Title IX, allowing the college to discriminate against its students on the basis of gender identity while still receiving federal funds, said Campus Pride.
Other Carolinas colleges included: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.; Anderson University in Anderson, S.C.; Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C.; North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.; and Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C.

Slanted much?

Back to that question about fairness and accuracy: If you were a Charlotte Observer reader — or, say, an official of one of the institutions named — what would you expect to see next in this story? Would you expect to see responses from the universities "outed" by the gay-rights group? In other words, would you expect the Charlotte Observer to exercise a little basic Journalism 101 and give those classified as anti-LGBTQ bigots an opportunity to respond and tell their side of the story?

If you expected the "other side" of the story, you would have been sadly disappointed (the other regional newspapers we mentioned all attempted, to varying degrees, to seek responses from those listed).

But in the Charlotte Observer's defense, that would have required actually picking up the telephone and calling somebody. Even the quotes the Charlotte Observer used from Campus Pride were copied and pasted straight from the gay-rights group's news release. (Baptist Press published some statements from Baptist university presidents Tuesday, but the report was published too late for the North Carolina newspaper to copy and paste anything.) I can't tell if the story ran in the Charlotte Observer's print edition, but the newspaper's verified account tweeted it to 142,000 followers.

Come to think of it, perhaps the Charlotte Observer should stop calling its writers "reporters." At least in this case, "stenographer" seems like a much better description. A new motto could be: "Send us your press releases, and we'll quickly and uncritically turn them into real-live, quasi-news headlines!"

In all seriousness, if there's a "Shame List" for journalistic malpractice, consider this a hearty recommendation for the Charlotte Observer's inclusion.

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