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Reporter Rips Poynter: It’s a ‘Halfway House for Failed Editors’

mcclellan_stl_dispatch.jpgBill McClellan, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter [a.k.a that guy, left, in what apparently is not an Onion stock photo], read a Poynter professor’s take on the New York Post‘s controversial jailhouse interview with Michael Devlin, the suspect in the Shawn Hornbeck kidnapping case, and unleashed a rare rant attacking the esteemed journalism institute:

The Poynter Institute sees itself as a sort of New Age school for journalists, but here in the hinterlands, where so many memories are soaked in beer and where journalism is seen as a trade rather than a profession — and a low trade at that, something that doesn’t require the skill of an electrician or a carpenter — we have our doubts about Poynter.

In fact, we see it as a halfway-house for failed editors. Two of them who left this newspaper with the imprint of a boot on the backside of their trousers both landed temporarily at Poynter. And God bless Poynter for taking them in; but still, we have our doubts about the wisdom that comes from the institute.

I mention this only because a representative of Poynter has weighed in on the latest episode in the story of the abduction and rescue of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby. The episode is a jailhouse interview that suspect Michael Devlin granted to Susannah Cahalan, a New Jersey native who attends Washington University. Actually, she interviewed Devlin in jail twice, and the results of those interviews were splashed across the pages of the New York Post.

Cahalan went to the Franklin County Jail and requested to talk with Devlin. He agreed to talk with her, and when she signed the visitors’ log, she identified her relationship to the inmate as “a friend.” She reportedly told Devlin she was a college student interested in the case. She reportedly did not mention that she was acting as a member of the media. Was this wrong? Yes, said Bob Steele, a professor of journalism ethics at Poynter. “Deception in this case does not seem in any way justified.”

As far as McClellan’s take? He thought Cahalan showed initiative in going to the jail: “Where was the deception?”

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