Local News

Journalism experts criticize UNC-TV's Alcoa reports

Posted August 4, 2010 7:44 p.m. EDT
Updated August 18, 2010 1:05 p.m. EDT

— Three UNC-TV news reports about one of the world's largest producers of aluminum was "a series of stories proffering an apparent point of view unsupported by the facts."

That's according to a panel of journalism professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who reviewed the reports at the request of the TV station's general manager.

Alcoa Inc., released the panel's draft memorandum, which it acquired through a public records request to the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

UNC-TV, last month, aired the investigative series on its evening news program, North Carolina Now, about the company's activities along the Yadkin River.

Tom Howe, UNC-TV's general manager, on July 9, requested the journalism school's review of the series, which Alcoa officials called biased.

The three-member journalism panel concluded that it would never have accepted the reports for broadcast.

"It is our opinion there was a breakdown in the editorial process at UNC-TV – as well as the establishment of an unfortunate precedent – when management abdicated its responsibilities and allowed the reporter to control the final work product," the professors wrote.

"The series should not have aired in the form it did," they continued.

In a statement, UNC-TV said an editorial review and any changes would have prevented the reports "from airing in a timely way and would have precluded the public from having immediate access to the information, provoking additional allegations that UNC-TV was suppressing the story."

The first report in the series aired the same night a legislative committee was to view material it had subpoenaed from UNC-TV.

"(Two of the three) reports aired with a full disclosure statement that they had not undergone the normal review process," UNC-TV said. "The reports did receive a legal review."

Alcoa said in a statement Wednesday that Howe asked that the review be postponed after the draft memorandum was written. Therefore, it was never issued.

"However, given the unfounded and damaging claims about Alcoa contained in the UNC-TV report, we believe it is important that the entire report be made public," Alcoa said.

Prior to airing the reports, UNC-TV and the series' producer and reporter provided story materials and an hour-long video, under a subpoena, to state lawmakers fighting Alcoa's effort to renew a 50-year federal license.

Alcoa once employed hundreds in an aluminum plant near the Yadkin River. The plant closed in 2007, but the company receives millions of dollars selling the electricity that the four hydroelectric dams generate.

Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco says the dams generate an estimated $20 million to $100 million in profits a year, but the state gets nothing.