Anyone who’s ever attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University is familiar with something called “The Medill F.” Designed to drive home the importance of accuracy, it refers to the automatic failure given to a student who makes a factual error on a story. Even something as simple as misspelling a name or a title can earn the dreaded “Medill F.”
Anna Davlantes, a 1993 Medill graduate herself, deserved one on Monday night.
In her heralded debut as a star reporter and contributing news anchor for WFLD-Channel 32, Davlantes delivered a story on the Fox-owned station’s 9 p.m. newscast in which she repeatedly got the names of the principal subjects wrong.
In a piece she wrote and reported on her own, Davlantes told the story of a Chicago woman who suffered brain damage and fell into a coma after she was involved in a taxi cab accident. Although doctors told her husband that her chances of survival were nil, the woman made a miraculous recovery and now is learning to walk again.
Twice in the piece, Davlantes referred to the woman and her husband as “Wilburg.” That’s also what the on-screen graphic said. But as a newsroom co-worker who was familiar with the family pointed out after the story aired, their actual name is “Kilburg.”
For the version of the story posted on Channel 32’s website, Davlantes recorded a new audio track with the family’s name corrected. But even after that, the text version of the story — under Davlantes’ own byline — showed the name as “Kilburn” for more than 16 hours before it finally was fixed Tuesday afternoon. (That error was later attributed to a Fox web editor.)
Davlantes did not respond to my inquiry about the mistake. But on Tuesday’s 9 p.m. newscast, she told viewers: “Last night we gave you conflicting information on the family’s last name.” Another source said she “felt horrible” when she realized what she had done and called the Kilburg family to apologize.
In fairness, Davlantes’ debut otherwise came off well, prompting kudos from Mike Renda, the station’s vice president and general manager, and resulting in what Lewis Lazare called a “significant bump up in the ratings.” (Although Channel 32’s main competitor, Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9, had its late news Monday delayed by a Bulls broadcast.)
“When you’re out front, you’re an easy target,” one friend said of those who would exploit Davlantes’ embarrassment. “Monday was an impossibly long and difficult day for Anna. She was under a great deal of pressure and was being pulled in a million different directions to get everything done.”
All are perfectly understandable extenuating circumstances. But none would ever pass muster in any freshman newswriting class at Medill.
Ed. Note: This post was updated at 7:11AM. Davlantes’ Medill graduation date was corrected from what the school provided.