AJC public editor misses the story

Reporter's resignation received minimal coverage

Sometimes, news lies in what doesn't happen. Take the news that didn't appear in the public editor's column in last Saturday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Longtime reporter Don Plummer resigned from the paper last week because an article under his byline contained passages that appeared earlier in a Pittsburgh daily. AJC Editor Julia Wallace broke the story with the most discrete of notes in a Fri., April 28, correction.

"An article published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 3 included extensive passages that replicated, verbatim and without attribution, passages in a similar article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 24," Wallace wrote.

Later Friday, the Associated Press produced a more complete account. Plummer, 58, told AP that miscommunication was to blame: An editor prepared for print an unfinished version of the story, which contained passages Plummer planned to update and localize.

It's hard to tell if the implication of plagiarism was fair in this case. But this is exactly the kind of substantive issue that should be addressed in Angela Tuck's public editor column.

Major dailies often rely on public editors to open themselves up to the scrutiny to which they subject other institutions. Tuck's column Saturday focused instead on what a great job the AJC is doing with its website.

Like two public editors before her (and likely through no fault of her own), Tuck is really the paper's "public relations" editor. Under Wallace, the AJC has made some progress in covering local news. But the state's newspaper of record would take a step further toward building readers' trust if it stopped treating coverage of itself as pablum.

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