Editor column: Rivalry week shenanigans call for careful reporting
Judgment call • Tribune opted not to publish photo that likely led to player suspension because it failed to meet verification standards.

By Lisa Carricaburu

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: September 21, 2013 06:57PM
Updated: September 21, 2013 09:38PM
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Lisa Carricaburu

No one has to tell those of us who work at The Salt Lake Tribune a lot was at stake in Saturday’s final Utah-BYU football game before the matchup takes a two-year hiatus.

All fans – whether they bleed red or blue – were looking for a game changer. As a result, we spent much of this past week investigating rumors hurled in either direction to stoke Utah’s most intense sports rivalry.

Was checking out rumors of player shenanigans the most important reporting we’ll do this year? No.

Nonetheless, the rumors leading up to an event many readers care deeply about did demand that we do our job. Professional journalists do not take Tweets, fan message board posts or email tips at their word. We ask questions, verify information, seek responses from those involved, provide context and publish only what we know to be true.

That’s why you didn’t see a photo that depicts BYU senior linebacker Spencer Hadley partying in what appears to be a Las Vegas club at sltrib.com or in The Tribune print edition.

We have the photo. We obtained it by submitting a request through the Government Records Access and Management Act to the University of Utah’s compliance office, which received it in a Monday email from a person who identified himself as “Darren Lucy” and said he was a “diehard Utah Utes fan.”

Here’s what we know about the photo: It is most likely what led to Hadley’s five-game suspension for violating BYU’s honor code after the U. of U. forwarded it in an email to BYU, although BYU officials in interviews declined to reveal the nature of Hadley’s transgression or verify whether the photo played a role in his suspension.

Here’s what we don’t know: where the photo was taken, when it was taken and whether it may have been altered or enhanced in any way.

The digital image we received from the U. of U. through the GRAMA request is of poor quality. It is a photo of a photo taken using an iPhone. Because an iPhone was used, we were able to use software to determine the photo was taken Aug. 29 in suburban Las Vegas.

Beyond that, the image is fuzzy enough to make it difficult to detect whether the original picture was altered or added to in some way.

There’s no question that Hadley appears in the photo, but we had enough questions about its overall authenticity to determine it did not meet our standard for publication.

Did we make the right call? You tell us.

We know readers wanted to know what led to the suspension of a starting BYU player just days before a key game and we answered that question. Beyond that the debate was whether it was good journalism to further enflame passions by publishing a photo about which there were so many unknowns.

We talked about it plenty and decided to do what good journalists always try to do: Present what we can verify and know to be true so you can draw your own conclusions.

In this case, we think we did our job.

Lisa Carricaburu is a managing editor. You can reach her at lisac@sltrib.com or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.