Wichita Eagle quality control could use improvement


When presented with evidence of errors in its stories, the Wichita Eagle, Kansas’ largest newspaper, is not being responsive in correcting its errors.

On July 12, the Eagle ran the story 84th District race a repeat for 2 candidates, highlighting the two Democratic Party candidates for a Kansas House of Representatives district. The article said there was no Republican filer, when in fact Dan Heflin had filed as a Republican. This could be seen clearly at either the Kansas Secretary of State’s listing of candidates, or at the Sedgwick County Election Office’s listing.

The article was written by “courtney looney,” a name I wasn’t familiar with at the Eagle. I couldn’t find an email address or telephone number, so I couldn’t contact the reporter directly. I, and one other person, left a comment to the story calling attention to the error. As of today, the error is still in the story. I couldn’t find evidence of a correction.

In another example, on August 10 the Wichita Eagle printed the story Kansas’ justice-selection process unique, in which the reporter wrote: “Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate and approval of the governor. Then the issue goes to voters during a general election.”

The process is described correctly except for the role of the governor. Unlike regular legislation, the governor does not sign or approve a constitutional amendment. The only parties involved are the legislature and the people voting on the amendment in an election.

In this case, I knew the identity of the reporter, so I sent an email message about this error. A comment writer called attention to the error, too. I never got a response, and the story still appears on the Wichita Eagle website with the error intact. Finally, on August 17 the Eagle printed a correction.

The story was printed in the Lawrence Journal-World under an Associated Press byline, and the error was there, too. The story may have been printed in other newspapers.

For a final example, on August 11 the Eagle printed the story Wichita City Council OKs tax districts, in which the reporter wrote: “The approval means the hotel can charge an extra cent or two of sales tax for up to 22 years, with the revenue rebated to them after the state and city remove 7 percent in administrative fees. That will mean about $9.6 million in revenue from the extra sales tax for the $12 million hotel.”

John Todd, a friend of mine with an interest in this issue, called me and asked me if it was true that the extra sales tax this hotel can charge through the Kansas Community Improvement District program would be worth $9.6 million over 22 years as reported. I said no, the CID is just one part of a package of subsidies the city created for this project, with the total package being worth $9.6 million or thereabouts. The total package is reported on at Waterwalk hotel deal breaks new ground for Wichita subsidies.

A simple back-of-the-napkin calculation can confirm this, using publicly available sources of data: The hotel may have up to 130 rooms. A study commissioned by the city regarding this hotel found that “In 2008, the proposed Fairfield Inn’s competitive set’s average daily rate was $86.31.” In January, Goody Clancy, the firm planning the revitalization of downtown Wichita, said that Wichita hotels are doing well with an occupancy rate of about 67 percent, with a companion chart showing downtown hotels at about 70 percent.

Doing the arithmetic (130 rooms times $86.31 daily rate times 365 days per year times 70 percent occupancy factor times two percent CID tax rate) results in about $57,336 in revenue per year from the CID tax. Or over the 22 year life of the CID, about $1.3 million. It’s possible the hotel might generate additional CID revenue through sales of drinks or other incidentals, but this would likely be a small amount.

Even if one disputes the assumptions and substitutes a higher room rate or occupancy factor, there’s no way the CID will come close to generating the revenue the Eagle article reports.

Todd called the reporter, and the reporter was insistent that the reported figures are correct, saying he received them from Wichita economic development director Allen Bell. I think this means we shouldn’t expect a correction.

It’s part of human nature to make mistakes. I do, and when I do, often I get an email from someone at the Wichita Eagle notifying me of such. When I realize I have made a mistake, I correct it, as can be seen in this example.

But the Wichita Eagle isn’t doing the same in a timely manner, and sometimes not at all.

It’s not as though I’m disagreeing with opinions presented in editorials on the opinion page (and people in Wichita have enough trouble with those). The problems here are with facts that can easily be verified. In particular, when the Eagle mistakenly reports the governor’s role in amending the constitution, and then doesn’t quickly issue a correction and leaves the erroneous story on its website, I think we have a problem.


13 responses to “Wichita Eagle quality control could use improvement”

  1. On Ballotpedia, we’ve got a list of all candidates for the Kansas State House in 2010:


  2. sue c.

    Not only are there blatant, factual mistakes made by the Eagle, they also use their platform to sway public opinion in “journalistic” articles (not just op-eds.)

    I find both to be a very disservice to the people the newspaper is supposed to serve: us.

    I have heard the Liberal Eagle referred to as “The Daily Disappointment” and it seems to be true on many levels.

    When a newspaper loses credibility, all is lost. A good reputation is hard hard to regain.

    No wonder hardly anyone I know subscribes to it anymore.

  3. Anonymous

    What’s also interesting is that apparently nobody at Wichita city hall noticed the error and bothered to notify the Eagle. I’m sure they all read it.

  4. Anonymous

    I’m surprised there wasn’t a flood of Kansas school kids notifying the Eagle of the error.

    On second thought, I’m not.

  5. Craig Gabel

    The eagle is a prime example of what happens under an information monopoly. This doesn’t even take into account
    the bully pulpit position they use to directly influence our local elections. All you have to do is let one conservative candidate or elected official make an “off the cuff” remark and they beat them to death over and over again. Creating an adverse opinion and influencing the election. You never see this type of
    reporting for a liberal candidate.

  6. Emma

    I see people from the Eagle at the commissary trying to GIVE away money just to get people to take the paper. The paper has shrunk in size and their ads section is also very small compared to a few years ago. They have an East Wichita version and a West Wichita version now. I can’t figure that idea out. But it seems rather plain that the Eagle is not doing too well. They are painfully partisan in their reporting and my husband says he wouldn’t take the Eagle if he owned a canary! I’d much rather read this blog, than anything they print in that paper. I think A LOT of Wichitans have reached the same conclusion about the Eagle. It’s such a shame, too. I hear it used to be a really good paper.

  7. Anonymous

    It’s not suprising that Bill Wilson (the reporter that made the mistake on the hotel story) is hostile to John Todd. Wilson doesn’t like anyone who criticizes big government and his downtown developer buddies. It’s suprising that this person is still employed by any newspaper.

  8. Thomas Witt

    Wow, lots of whining about the Eagle. I find that quite surprising. We’re all free enterprise types here, right? If so, quit whining and start your own publication(s). Good old American competition could fix this problem, I suspect.

  9. Anonymous

    Wow. What doesn’t surprise me about Thomas Witt sticking up for the Wichita Eagle. It supports all his big-taxing and big-spending programs.

  10. Anonymous

    Newspapers aren’t a very good business right now; their time is passing. So I don’t think the Eagle has much to worry about with startups threatening them. You’d kind of have to be a fool to start a newsprint publication now.

  11. Anonymous

    Thomas Witt’s comment indicates that he is not a person to be taken seriously. He would rather poke fun at people and engage in childish arguments rather than have a serious discussion. He does this on other online forums, too.

  12. Dismal Scientist

    The dead tree media is in so much trouble that they are now openly asking for a “bailout” from the Federal Government! The Eagle has dropped in readership since the 2008 crash (probably before). For a paper that prides itself on being so “environmentally aware” and “green” I cannot imagine why they pollute the streets of Wichita with their free”teaser” editions of the Thursday paper. I know you have seen them in the gutter, wet or being washed into the sewer system at the end of your block. Yikes!

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