In Jane Stancill’s story, published online Wednesday and in print Thursday, UNC professor Daniel Nelson questioned media coverage about the university’s action last week to halt whistleblower Mary Willingham’s research on the literacy levels of student-athletes.
In our case, that would be Dan Kane’s story on Jan. 17 that used the verb “suspended” in the first paragraph to describe UNC’s action. Nelson objected, in effect saying that UNC couldn’t suspend authority that had never been granted by the university’s Institutional Review Board, which his office chairs. His point was that the board had never before determined that Willingham needed its approval, and when it determined last week that she did, that stopped her research.
We understand the distinction, and we take such complaints about our coverage seriously. I wanted to explain why Kane’s story was worded as it was.
On Thursday evening, Jan. 16, Dan was writing a story about UNC Chancellor Carol Folt’s concerns about Willingham’s research. Shortly after 6, he became aware of a CNN report saying that UNC had stopped her work.
He quickly sent an email to university spokeswoman Karen Moon:
Moon responded 10 minutes later:
So Moon’s response is a “yes” to whether UNC had “yanked” Willingham’s research access. And she goes on to provide the context that Nelson amplifies in his statement.
Our story used “suspended” in the first paragraph. It used “halted” in the print headline and “suspends” in the summary headline.
Kane received Moon’s email a bit before 6:30 in the evening and set about rewriting what had been a fairly simple story about Folt. With the benefit of more time, we can see the distinction between suspending research that hadn’t been approved and stopping or halting research that had been underway without what the university now says would have been proper approval. But the point of the action, and of the story, was that Ms. Willingham’s research would cease. And that point was clear.
Readers also have been buffeted by the back-and-forth over whether Willingham’s research was properly done. We want to know that, too; we have requested the underlying data, both from Willingham and from the university. When we get it, we will report on it fully.