On Monday, June 27, WBEZ published a story about Chicago speed cameras, originally titled “Chicago’s speed cameras yield more tickets and controversy – but city drivers aren’t slowing down.” The article reported extensively on the costs of tickets imposed on car owners, highlighting the increase in ticketing since the city imposed a stricter speeding threshold for issuing citations.
The story also stated that the camera system has “little safety benefit” – an assertion that we later determined lacked sufficient evidence. As such, WBEZ posted a correction on the story late Monday that included a link to a recent study from the University of Illinois Chicago associating speed cameras with a 15% reduction in traffic fatalities and severe injuries. We also added a data visualization showing a gradual decline in speeding tickets since 2014, when speed cameras first started ticketing drivers for going 10 mph or more over the limit, which indicates that drivers had in fact slowed down in camera zones over the past eight years. The trend is less clear when looking at the number of speeding tickets issued since the 6 mph threshold was introduced in March of 2021.
Why were these mistakes not caught before publication?
Although the story had been reported over the course of several weeks starting in April, the issue of the city’s speed camera program – and the associated financial impact on drivers who paid the fines – came back into public view when a vote on a proposal to repeal the lower, 6 mph threshold stalled in City Council on June 22. We decided to publish the story sooner than later in light of that news. Unfortunately, in the process of updating the story to reflect the controversy at City Hall, the story’s editors introduced a number of errors and did not take the final step of vetting the new material against the data analysis.
In addition, the story needed to revisit the overall balance of the perspectives represented – in particular, the effectiveness of speed cameras in slowing drivers down and thus reducing serious or fatal accidents. While it is true that the city has taken in millions of dollars in fines, there is credible evidence that imposing such penalties improves road safety in the vicinity of the speed cameras.
Why did we remove the bylines of two WBEZ staffers?
WBEZ’s data editor and data/visuals reporter provided initial analysis and visualization support, respectively. Neither was involved in writing or editing the story. They requested to have their names removed from the byline because the story published without the necessary data fact-check process. In short, responsibility for the mistakes that led to the correction ultimately rests with the story editors.
What happens next?
In the spirit of transparency and accountability, newsroom managers will conduct an internal review into WBEZ processes to ensure news reports are thoroughly and consistently fact-checked before publication. We will also implement extra steps to verify stories with sensitive or complicated subject matter. WBEZ is committed to accuracy, fairness, independence, truth and accountability. We are committed to doing the work required to serve our audiences better, and being transparent and forthcoming when we fall short of that.
As interim co-managing editor and one of the editors directly involved in the story, I am available to answer any and all questions about what happened here. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your feedback, comments and questions. My sincere goal is to restore any trust that’s been lost as a result of this incident.