Editorial: Fact checking gets real for Marin IJ

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Illustration by Kalyn Dawes

“Do the math. You don’t need to ace trigonometry to calculate that Redwood has a serious parking problem.”

“…the school administration needs to take action to limit its parking needs to the number of spaces it has available on campus…” 

These statements were printed in a Marin Independent Journal (IJ) editorial titled, “Parking gets real for Redwood High students,” as summer was coming to a close and Redwood students were beginning a new school year. In an editorial published on Aug. 18, the IJ criticized Redwood’s parking policy for causing an overflow of parking to nearby neighborhoods while incorrectly stating several major details and causes. Most notably, the IJ falsely accused Redwood of issuing 762 student permits, when in fact the policy changed drastically in the fall of 2018. While these numbers were accurate as of the beginning of the past school year, the updated version did not account for the policy changes since then. Additionally, the IJ reused the same photo of the front parking lot in four different articles published online, displaying their unwillingness to reevaluate and investigate the situation. According to Principal David Sondheim, the IJ never contacted the Redwood administration prior to publishing their editorial to confirm the facts. In their editorial, the IJ inaccurately referred to the former parking policy as the basis for their claims, misrepresenting Redwood’s current parking situation and displaying a prime example of untrustworthy journalism.

As one of the dominant news sources in Marin, the faulty information not only misled the community, but also unfairly painted Redwood in a negative light. As fellow journalists, we value the importance of a trustworthy local news source for inspiration and guidance. Unfortunately, the mistakes presented in the IJ’s editorial diminished our trust in their journalistic practices.

Although an updated version was published online on Aug. 26, it is necessary that the IJ staff print an apology and correction of their factually incorrect and overly critical editorial. Simply editing the online version without any recognition of their original mistakes is not substantial considering the magnitude of the error. 

At the Bark, we prioritize fact-checking during the editing process to ensure our pieces are accurate and reliable. This year we are building on our fact-checking process by making it a central responsibility for editors, who are required to review interview transcripts and other resources before approving a story for publishing. As the IJ has a larger following than the Bark, we would hope they would conduct a similar process to prevent the publication of incorrect statements. In the event of a factual error, it is better to acknowledge the mistake to not only prevent the spread of false information, but to also redeem the status of being a trustworthy publication.

One of the main reasons we are asking for this apology is based on the fact that accurate and quality journalism matters today more than ever. With articles constantly referred to as “fake news” by the public and government officials alike, scores of stories produced by the media are being scrutinized. It is imperative that publications promote truthful information in order to accurately inform the public and local communities about what goes on around us. Without reliable sources of information, citizens are susceptible to believing false claims or can be left guessing in a haze of confusion. 

Redwood’s parking policy is admittedly not perfect. The current parking policy, implemented last fall, limits the number of parking permits to the number of spaces available, assigning each student to one parking spot for the year. It also does not permit students to drive off campus during lunch or break. This, in turn, reduces neighborhood disruptions. The drawback to this policy is that not every student who drives to school is guaranteed a parking spot, resulting in several students being forced to park in surrounding neighborhoods and along Lucky Drive. 

Although there is still progress to be made, we applaud Redwood’s administration for working tirelessly to come up with a plan that would benefit both students and surrounding neighborhoods. With significantly more students than available parking spots, we recognize the difficulty in coming up with an ideal solution. However, as enrollment continues to grow in the next few years, Redwood should plan accordingly to reduce the number of students scrambling to find street parking and inconveniencing neighbors.

There is still room for improvement in Redwood’s parking policy, but that is not our greatest concern. As a publication, we are most troubled by the spread of misinformation and the IJ’s failure to exemplify common standards of high-quality journalism. As journalists, we can attest that mistakes happen, however, the actions taken by the IJ to resolve their errors were done so at the bare minimum and did not measure up to the magnitude of inaccuracy. We encourage the IJ to step up and claim ownership of their mistakes. After all, if we were in their position, we would do the same.