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The Dripby Fern Shen9:45 pmFeb 25, 20180

Setting the record straight

Baltimore Brew first reported that MTA sat on dangerous Baltimore Metro rail data for over a year

Above: An elevated portion of the Baltimore Metro in better days. (Hill International)

Every reporter knows the feeling and at Baltimore Brew we’re used to it  – seeing our scoops turn up, lightly re-reported, without credit in other publications.

Provenance is tricky in the news biz and we generally don’t feel like it’s worth spending time obsessing over it – except when the failure to credit seems really egregious.

That happened recently with the story about the Maryland Transit Administration having had the information that the Baltimore Metro track was dangerous for over a year before the agency abruptly shut the system for “emergency” repairs.

Baltimore Brew published that fact first and we think the Baltimore Sun should clarify its reporting to reflect that.

The key information was buried in a link embedded in a Feb. 15 MTA press release – a release that the Sun’s Christina Tkacik turned into a quick 277-word story, published at 7:25 p.m. that day:

“Excessive wear, fear of derailment prompted Metro shutdown.”

Nothing inaccurate in Tkacik’s story, but she missed the significance of the data.

The Brew’s Mark Reutter, however, clicked on the link, read the study and realized what the high Gauge Face Angle measurements – taken in November 2016 – meant. The MTA had known the tracks could cause a derailment 16 months before they acted.

The Brew story, published on the same day as the Sun’s, February 15, about an hour later, made the point clearly:

“MTA had data a year ago that Metro tracks were dangerous.”

When, we wondered, would the Sun catch up to our scoop? They waited five days to re-report it.

“MTA knew Baltimore Metro rails did not meet safety standards in November 2016” was the headline of Colin Campbell’s piece.

Essentially repeating the Brew’s reporting – everything we said was confirmed – the story never included those seven words of journalistic fair play: “as first reported by the Baltimore Brew.”

Our piece was retweeted and discussed in prominent social media sites, but in “the newspaper of record” it was as if it never existed.

Since Reutter, a former editor of Railroad History magazine, first pinpointed the agency’s serious failure to act, the story has blown up in Baltimore, Annapolis and even Washington.

Baltimore lawmakers denounced Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea has called for Rahn to resign.

The Sun’s Erin Cox reported these developments on February 20, saying that they came “after The Baltimore Sun reported that the state operated the city’s Metro system for more than a year after discovering 17 sections of rails failed to meet safety standards.”

Now an independent review has been requested by the MTA Administrator, Kevin Quinn. Speaking with us by phone the night we saw the 2016 “black condition” track data, Quinn had pointed out that he was not in charge of the agency at the time it came in.

In writing this, I guess I’m trying to clarify another timeline – on the reporting of the story.

It’s likely somebody on North Calvert Street looked at the Brew story at some point and said “Whoa, how did we miss that?” And that after they did their own reporting, they realized our story was accurate, and first.

I’d like to think the Sun reporters – who have their own scoops and good reporting to be proud of – aren’t responsible for this failure to credit. That it’s part of some editor-driven policy.

Anyway, editors, I know you’re all busy juggling the daily news flow, etc. But I hope after reading this – in the interests of accuracy, if nothing else – you’ll take a moment and go back and add those seven words and set the record straight.

And if not, I’ve at least done it here.

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