Inside the News Room

In chasing down stories, are we furthering the agendas of others?

This evolving feature of The Lens will feature some behind-the-scenes looks at our staff and our decisions, as well as remind you of our upcoming events.

When we received a tip that City Councilman Jon Johnson owned a rundown Lower 9th Ward property that had received a taxpayer-financed loan for renovation – yet hadn’t been significantly fixed up – it seemed like a worthwhile story to look into.

But was the timing of the tip a bit suspect?

After all, the information landed in our laps as Johnson and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell are in a contentious standoff with four others on city council, with the pair delaying action on a number of issues by skipping meetings.

Certainly, keeping a file of embarrassing information on your political colleagues is a practice as old as politics. When things get tense, you threaten them privately or publicly release the material, if you need to get tough.

Was that happening here? Was The Lens being used to further someone’s political fight? Maybe. Was it still a story worth pursuing? Absolutely.

Though it happens, few news tips come to us from disinterested parties seeking only to serve the truth. Most people have an agenda.  We take such things into consideration, but in the end, we choose to run down a story because it meets our standards and will be a service to our readers.

When we determined that everything checked out – and after we tried to talk to Johnson to get his side of the story – we let people know that one of their elected officials who talks tough on blight is the owner of a home that neighbors consider an eyesore, and that he is past the deadline to use the state-administered loan. Further, neighbors wanted to know why the city hadn’t cracked down on him, as it has on other properties nearby.

As a result of our questions, the city sent and inspector out and cited Johnson, and the property will move through the adjudication process.

Just tweeting it out there

Even as we were reporting that story, we were covering the meetings – or lack thereof – of the City Council, which were being scuttled by the absence of Johnson and Hedge-Morrell. Sitting in the council chambers Wednesday morning, looking at their empty chairs, I wondered where they were. One person on Twitter suggested we offer a prize for a photo of them taken somewhere that day.

I decided we should request the council members’ calendars for a couple of weeks to see what they were doing. And in a new-media moment of openness, I tweeted out a note to The Gambit, asking whether we should flip for it or both file the request. They wrote back that we should all do it. We were too busy to pursue the request, but the increasingly aggressive reporters at our alternative weekly publication took it on. They produced this story about how the two met with Mayor Mitch Landrieu the day before they weren’t able to attend the meeting.

Wonder what they talked about?

Mea culpa

While we’re on the subject, I want to publicly apologize to Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni. In our reporting on that meeting, and the mayor’s subsequent response to it, my interpretation of his statement mistakenly got into print. Neither the mayor nor Berni were making a judgment about Council President Jackie Clarkson. We were wrong, and it was my fault.

We quickly moved to correct the reporting after Berni pointed it out. You’ve probably noted that it’s not our policy to simply make our mistakes go away. As is common in other online publications with high standards, we strike the incorrect copy, underline the additions and add a note to succinctly explain the changes.

We’re an organization dedicated to educating the public while advocating for transparency, honesty and accountability. We want to hold ourselves to those standards, too, and we hope this correction policy serves that end.

Our new look

Thanks to the many readers who have emailed me, tweeted or commented on Facebook about our redesign. Your comments have been largely positive, and we’ve talked with our designers about some of the things you’ve said are a bit hard to read.

It was pure coincidence that our redesign came out very near the new setups at and WDSU-TV. At least we didn’t go with an eye-searing yellow.

We wish the best to our former engagement editor, Maggie Calmes, who has moved to to help that site with its social-media work. When she’s not busy tweeting or making things happen on Facebook or Tumblr, she’s helping to promote New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling. Maggie’s the exuberant one second from left in the photo with this recent TP story on the topic, which catches up with this December story in the British newspaper The Guardian, which was written by former Lens staffer Matt Davis.

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  • Steve

    Nice illustration of self-reflexivity. It’s good to see a news agency that’s not too proud to admit it’s run by humans who will inevitably make mistakes.

  • Alsion Reed

    could someone find out how anyone got the information that Mr George re-registered to vote in the district that he had been living for the past 5 years 6 days before his appointment? Voter registration information as far as I can tell isnt exactly public information and if it is there should be a request on file at Mr Morrells office, or did someone jsut look it up for someone else? These are the things that drive us nuts!