April 21, 2016

Jotham Sederstrom, the editor who was fired from the New York Daily News for removing attribution from columns written by senior justice writer Shaun King, publicly apologized this morning.

Sederstrom called the deletions an accident in a post on Medium, citing a frenetic newsroom pace, sloppy editing and technical glitch, the error:

In all honesty, the controversy  —  a fuck up on my part, to put it bluntly — — comes down to two unintentional, albeit inexcusable, instances of sloppy editing on my part and a formatting glitch that until Tuesday I had no idea was systematically stripping out large blocks of indented quotations each time I moved Shaun’s copy from an email to The News’ own Content Management System, or “CMS” as it’s called in media parlance.

The accidental removals came while Sederstrom was copyediting King’s columns amid the chaos of “the many responsibilities I juggled as an editor.” Sederstrom says King’s work jockeyed with about 20 other stories from prolific reporters for his attention.

This is not an excuse, but here I take issue with Jim Rich’s assertion that these mistakes were “inexplicable.” They can happen easily if you’re not paying extreme attention to detail at every moment.

Many of us in the news industry are increasingly under pressure to deliver an ever higher volume of stories with ever fewer resources and let’s just say, that doesn’t help. I don’t say that to absolve myself of blame, but to illustrate how this happened with no intention on my part to damage Shaun’s reputation or the paper’s.

Suspicion first fell on Sederstrom earlier this week after a plagiarism scandal wrongly engulfed King, who was accused of lifting paragraphs wholesale from The Daily Beast and FiveThirtyEight. King took to Twitter to defend himself, providing early drafts of stories with the language attributed to their original sources.

Rich, the editor of the New York Daily News, announced Sederstrom’s firing (though not by name), calling the removals a “series of egregious and inexplicable errors.”

The whole episode is a cautionary tale that shows writers should learn to use their publication’s content management system to produce their own work on deadline, said Kelly McBride, the vice president for academic programs at The Poynter Institute.

“This editor was not editing. He was producing,” McBride wrote. “And there is a difference. An editor edits with the audience in mind, asking questions of the text like: How do you know this? Does this make sense? Does the reader need something more or something different at this turn in the copy?”

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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