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Dartmouth’s President Tells 90,000 People He’s Not Retiring, and Bloomberg Reports on it…Twice.

The Dartmouth government student’s cup spilleth o’er not with wine but with news about the world. Between AP, Reuters, Xinhua, Bloomberg, Kyodo, Dow, and, oui, sometimes the Agence France-Presse, I must glance at more than one thousand news items a day, poring over a hundred or so to analyze for bloggability. To make the job easier—and so I never am reduced to staring at the raw wire—a series of filters and news alerts ding me when an item likely to be of interest moves—that’s the word the news folks use, moves—across the wire. In the last twenty-four hours or so, Dartmouth College hit the news not once but twice.

The first was at 12:45p in the afternoon on March 8. The story, on Bloomberg’s education wire, was called “Dartmouth’s Wright Says He Won’t Resign in E-Mail.” The headline was forwarded to me by e-mail and I used the library’s terminal to access the full article. Read it here.

The story reports extensively on a 1,868-word community letter sent from Dartmouth President Jim Wright to all students, employees, alumni, and parents of students. (I know that last because my own dad, annoyed by the spam, forwarded me a copy.) That’s an e-mail blast of roughly 85,000 to 90,000. The e-mail is full of generic dispatches from Hanover’s frigid climes: a new mission statement, Dartmouth helps veterans, &c. But a healthy portion is dedicated to College politics, with Mr. Wright dedicating a paragraph to talking of—abjuring, really—his retirement. “Some people”, he wrote, “have claimed that one of the new trustee’s assignments will be to elect the next president. This statement will likely prove to be correct — someday. For now though, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of my retirement are premature. While I may look my age, I am not yet ready to act it. In my thirty-eighth year at Dartmouth, I have things yet to do and I enjoy immensely doing them. So let us hold off on the transition planning.”

Reports of his retirement? No one has heard any, so getting at the motivation behind that statement required some digging. The story notes that, in the three most recent Trustee elections, where alumni stakeholders came together to influence the direction of the College, Mr. Wright’s view prevailed in not one of them. If you’ve not already, go ahead and click above to see how the Bloomberg news service—encapsulating the arc of recent history rather well—reported on the e-mail. Reading just the lead section will suffice.

Then, several hours later, at 6:23p, the same Dartmouth story ran. At least the headline was the same. The flavor of the story was different entirely. You can read the “corrected” story here. In the updated version of the story, gone is the language contextualizing President Wright’s e-mail message with three Trustee elections lost to independent, petition-nominated alumni candidates. Instead, the new version says that the e-mail paragraph in question—the one about retirement—was provoked by a heretofore ignored story in The Dartmouth about official Trustee candidate Sheri Oberg, who merely said that the next Trustee, who will serve for eight years, will have a hand in selecting the next president of the College. But that’s a truism.

Of course, it is not unusual for wire reports to be updated several times through the day. But their very fabric is usually not changed—just the occasional errant fact. It is interesting that a tight, contextualized news story was halved in the space of just a few hours. Did Dartmouth’s public relations people complain? If they did, how did their thinking go? In the first version, it was the loss of three public Board votes—four including the constitution—that prompted Mr. Wright’s abjuration of all “reports” of retirement. In the second, it was an explicit statement about Wright’s “imminent resignation” by one of the officially nominated Trustee candidates that prompted Wright’s denial. Which looks better?

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