Having broken the story that led to a recent article in The Baltimore Sun, “Baltimore County school system shredded more than 2,500 financial disclosure statements, records show” (Sept. 28), I am writing to clear up a few issues. The first deals with what I consider to be a fundamental courtesy that seems to have been neglected in The Sun’s publishing of the document purge story regarding Baltimore County Public Schools. It is my understanding that it is both common courtesy and basic journalistic ethics to attribute stories properly.
In early August, I requested the “destruction log” for the Baltimore County school system’s financial disclosure statements. As you may be aware, the school system has long battled legal and ethical issues related to the nondisclosure of income on some employees’ disclosure statements. In fact, the failure to fill out the forms properly landed former Superintendent Dallas Dance in jail when he perjured himself by filling out three of his statements inaccurately.
After a six-month investigation in which I requested disclosure forms for over two dozen employees, I asked for the log of destroyed records due to several inconsistencies I began experiencing during my requests for the disclosure records. I was sent that destruction log on Aug. 9 and began reporting on the purge immediately. That was over a month and a half ago. But I also reported that the record purge was significant for a few reasons:
For one, an official at Baltimore County schools decided to purge the records in April and August for the first time in the system’s recorded history, the log showed. And the official decided to do it a week after the school system’s former superintendent was sentenced to jail, and on the eve of his April 28th incarceration. But, more importantly, as also first reported by The Baltimore Post, the purge occurred amid very public and heated discussions on the scope and control of a procurement audit that was triggered immediately following a New York Times article (“How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom,” Nov. 3, 2017) which included details about school system administrators having ties to the Education Research and Development Institute.
On Friday, Sept. 28, I wrote to Sun editors and reporters asking that your reporter’s article be updated to reflect the origin of the document purge story. Early on Saturday morning, when I did not receive a response, I wrote again. A few hours later, I received a message that the story had been updated to reflect that The Baltimore Post first reported the school system’s record purge. While the link to your online version shows the inclusion of a sentence crediting The Baltimore Post in the third graph, neither the Sunday print version nor the paper’s Sunday e-edition reflects the change. The Sun had ample time to make the change, but didn’t. And, in a word, I find this to be just wrong. It is also not the first time this — or things like it — have happened with The Baltimore Post’s work not being attributed properly by The Sun. I will let other publications speak for themselves.
Secondly, regarding the document purge story itself, you should know that the purges occurred while I was actively requesting the records. Among other strange discoveries that occurred throughout my six-month investigation, one month after questioning the school system’s ethics and communications departments about a position I found an employee had with controversial consulting firm, The SUPES Academy, a position that had not been included on the employee’s 2013 financial disclosure statement, instead of looking into it and responding, Baltimore County schools simply purged that document, too.
There are reasons why I decided to look into the school system’s financial disclosure statements. It wasn’t simply a shot in the dark. While the ultimate goal is to be of service to the public and the greater good and to report truthfully and with integrity for the sake of informing the public, a level of respect I think is needed among those who do the work — in whatever capacity that work is performed and regardless of the size of the building in which it is done. In an era where the media has been under attack — even referred to as an “enemy of the people” — I think it is important, at the very least, to uphold fundamental principles such as those I have asked your paper to consider.
In short, I am asking that you respect the work of others and that you attribute them properly as you curate research for your stories.
The writer is a freelance reporter whose work appears in The Baltimore Post.