By Reggie Connell/Publisher and Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
What the heck is going on in Apopka?
Does the mayor want the fire chief to retire? What’s the investigation about the fire department? Why is Apopka suing its former EMS billing provider? What happened with the police department investigation?
Is this just a bunch of fake news? Is it social media speculation run wild? Is it bonafide facts?
I’ve never started an article with eight straight questions before, but that’s the buzz in Apopka these past few months, and considering this is an off-election year, 2019 has been unusually contentious. This sort of controversy has lit up the social media pages of Apopka with a heavy dose of speculation, rumor, innuendo, and in some cases truth, but without the verification needed to be deemed factual.
It’s the buzzword that politicians and elected officials use to prove their willingness to be trusted through verification.
Regulations like the Freedom of Information Act and Florida Sunshine Laws require the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the government upon request. They require openness in government and make meetings, records, votes, deliberations and other official actions available for public observation, participation and/or inspection.
It’s been my general observation that elected officials and politicians want to be transparent on everything they want the public to know, but sometimes evasive on the things they don’t want to be known.
And certainly, I get it. That’s human nature after all. No one wants to disclose private, embarrassing or negative aspects of their business, but when these officials are spending taxpayer money and working on behalf of the people, it’s important they be held accountable even when they don’t want to.
It’s in these grey-area scenarios that a community desperately needs objective investigative journalism to step-in and shine a light on what is fact and what is fiction. But shouldn’t the journalists doing the fact-checking be just as transparent about their process as we ask of our elected officials?
With transparency in mind, let me open the books and tell you exactly what The Apopka Voice’s policies are as they relate to writing an investigative article, editorial, or series of stories about an important person, elected official, business or department.
The Apopka Voice launched its news site in December of 2015. In that time, we have published over 6,200 articles. As the managing editor, I have written and reported about every aspect of Apopka news – particularly politics and government. There have been eight commissioners, and two mayors elected to the City Council since The Apopka Voice began, as well as six challengers who did not win in 2016 or 2018. And in those election cycles, I wrote multiple articles and features about each one of them without playing favorites or even making endorsements. No one has accused The Apopka Voice of having an agenda that supported or was against any one of them. We have always called them as we saw them. We bring this same objectivity and impartial analysis to our investigative articles.
I can say without reservation that I have NEVER written a critical word about anyone or any institution without significant hesitation beforehand, and without first giving that person, department or business an opportunity to tell their side of the story.
I believe that excellent journalism, published independently and accurately, can help a community prosper and a municipal democracy flourish. I do not report on the news of Apopka to “catch” elected officials in technical breaches, and I do not ascribe to the “gotcha” stereotypical caricature of journalists.
Investigative journalism, when used sparingly and fairly, offers valuable revelations. If done ethically, objectively, and impartially, can connect the dots that those in power generally do not want to be connected and, in the process, hold those in power to account.
As stated above, The Apopka Voice does not endorse candidates, but occasionally we do provide an opinion or editorial on subjects that are important to the community.
And when we do, we take the extra step of explaining and providing the facts that our opinion is based upon. In our view, just because an article is labeled “editorial” or “opinion” does not give the writer a license to say anything that happens to be in their head. We don’t take cheap shots or describe a person or political party disparagingly, or add sarcasm or hyperbole at the expense of those we may disagree with.
We treat opposing views with respect even in an editorial or opinion piece because editorials and opinion pieces are supposed to be written to persuade, not attack. Otherwise, all they accomplish is sarcastic comedy meant to provide people who already agree with you a little red meat feast, and perhaps a cheap laugh at their opponent’s expense. That style of opinion writing, while popular, will never advance the subject and never convince anyone of anything.
That is a style of writing you will never see in The Apopka Voice.
Receiving Tips From People
Tips from the public are incredibly helpful. The Apopka Voice receives tips all the time, and I, as managing editor, verify every one of them – no matter how outlandish. That is NOT to say we publish every tip we receive, but they are taken to their logical conclusion. Those found to be credible and provable are published.
Although I receive tips from individuals who may not be credible or who may have an agenda or who may be partisan to a specific side of an issue, I nonetheless check all leads. It doesn’t mean I agree with them. It doesn’t mean I am working alongside them. It simply means I check all leads for credibility no matter who gives them to me.
Off the record conversations
Occasionally The Apopka Voice will talk to a person “off the record”, which means we will seek out information from a subject with the understanding that we will not disclose that person’s name in the article. When we go off the record with a subject, their information is always confirmed with other “on the record” subjects or by supporting documents. Off the record conversations are like a fact-finding road map. We use their information to get to the truth, but we rarely take a subject’s word for something if they are not willing to put their name behind it.
The Apopka Voice rarely, but sometimes agrees not to identify people who provide information for our articles. Under our guidelines, anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way. In most cases, unnamed sources are not directly quoted in an article, but rather lead us to corroborating evidence or another source who is willing to go on the record.
We realize many readers are skeptical about the credibility and motivation of unnamed sources. Some will even question whether the source exists. We understand readers’ wariness, but many important stories in sensitive areas could never be reported if we completely banned anonymous sourcing. Sources often fear for their jobs, their personal, political or professional relationships, and sometimes even for their safety.
The Apopka Voice has quoted three unnamed sources in two articles over the course of our three-and-a-half-year history. That’s two out of over 6,200 articles published, which means it’s a rarity, but still, a carefully utilized tool that gets to the truth.
And in all three cases, the source’s honesty and credibility were proven-out as more details came to light.
In the coming days and weeks, The Apopka Voice will publish investigative pieces on issues that are being talked about quite a bit these days on social media sites that focus on our community. Some of these sites have sent us tips, talked to us off and on the record and continue to provide us with details of what they believe is true.
Some have agendas and some don’t.
It is our promise to the readers of The Apopka Voice that we will only publish an investigative piece after we have thoroughly researched every detail, verified its accuracy, and given the subjects an opportunity to respond. We will definitely not have the most posts on Facebook, but you can count on our articles to be thoroughly researched and accurate.
You can trust The Apopka Voice. That’s our promise to you.