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Last Friday the Sun-Times reported that a fistfight broke out in an Orchestra Hall box during the Thursday night concert of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Playing catchup, the Tribune posted a short AP story at midday Saturday, followed a couple hours later with a brief "staff report" that leaned heavily on the AP, and followed that evening with a much richer piece by staffer Steve Padilla.
Any good reporter who’s late to a story wants to leave a stamp on it. Padilla’s stamp was musicological. He began: “The tempo marking for the second movement of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 is adagio non troppo—slow but not too slow. One member of the audience watching the Chicago Symphony Orchestra this week apparently thought it was marked furioso. He got into a fistfight.” Apropos of nothing but a writer enjoying himself, Padilla then recalled “the riot that broke out in Paris during the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s 'The Rite of Spring' in 1913."
But Padilla bent over backward to make it clear where the story originated. "As the Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday night..." wrote Padilla. Conductor Riccardo Muti—"as the Sun-Times reported"—looked over at the ruckus with "dagger eyes." "We heard a rather loud thump," CSO patron Steve Robinson, who's general manager of WFMT, "told the newspaper."
There was a time when newspapers playing catch-up didn't do this sort of thing—when they wrote through a story they wrote out whoever beat them to it. So as we credit the Sun-Times for being first, does the Tribune deserve a pat on the back for at least being forthright?
Padilla thinks so. “I think that shows a lot of class,” he told me.
He doesn't mean on the part of himself. He means on the part of the Tribune for letting his story stand as its last word on the subject. Padilla is, as I said, a staffer—but not for the Tribune. He’s assistant national editor of the Los Angeles Times—also owned by the Tribune Company. On Saturday evening he was in LA pumping out stories for the Times’s news blog, “Nation Now.” He says, “It was a fairly slow news day. There wasn’t much to blog on except daylight savings time.” But the AP story on the Orchestra Hall dustup caught his eye, and as it cited the Sun-Times he visited the Sun-Times site to see what it had had to say. Padilla’s responsibility was entirely different from a local reporter’s: his duty wasn’t to write the Sun-Times out of a story it broke; it was to assure his readers the nutty story was true. By naming his source multiple times, that’s what he did.
The weird thing is that his story went up on the Tribune website too and stayed there. This might be evidence of virtue on the march, or possibly stronger evidence that newspapers these days don't have enough reporters around on a Saturday to cover the home front without out-of-town help.