I was stunned by an article published in the Austin Weekly News about Lisa Sanders, a respected volunteer at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Austin Weekly News and Medill News Service owe an apology to Mrs. Sanders – after they publish a correction detailing the long list of inaccuracies in this piece by Northwestern journalism student Caroline Moses. Shame on Miss Moses and her editors for failing to root out all the questionable content in this article, and later, for failing to correct it when asked.
This article was supposed to focus on the difficulties homeless students and parents face as their families are moved among shelters – or at least that is what Medill News Service told our staff when it asked us to refer a family. Mrs. Sanders agreed to talk about her family’s past experience because she volunteers at the coalition, helping work for programs that can help other homeless families.
For the record, Mrs. Sanders became homeless three years ago after fire hit the home she shared with her children and mother. The family returned to their home last November, after repairs were finally completed. As Mrs. Sanders told us, “I could have refused this interview because my family is out of that situation now, but I want never to forget where I came from. I’d like to help others going through what we went through.”
And what did she get for her generosity?
Mrs. Sanders was portrayed as an alcoholic who never lived in her own home. Had the reporter cited facts and used accurate quotes in context, she would have made clear that Mrs. Sanders struggled with alcoholism after living through a painful divorce from the father of her older children. Mrs. Sanders is honest and understandably proud about the sobriety she first achieved on September 12, 2002. This was 16 months before fire made her family homeless. Thus it makes no sense for an article about homeless students to detail a parent’s private and much earlier struggles, needlessly embarrassing her and especially her children.
Mrs. Sanders told us that faith in God and her church now give her the strength to handle personal setbacks, including the impact of this sloppy, inaccurate article upon her family. Had the reporter followed the basics of Journalism 101 – listen to your subject and report accurately what you hear – she might have been able to report the real story about Mrs. Sanders.
“I feel this is another case of someone equating personal circumstances with personal character,” she told us.
Those of us who know and work with Mrs. Sanders would have to agree.