One day earlier this week, I was an alleged felon.
Let me back up.
You may have noticed that the new, improved Dagger site includes small mug shots of all our staff writers, I guess so you’re able to cross the street or duck into a store if you see us heading your way.
My shot isn’t as cool as Todd Holden’s, or as intimidating as Brian Goodman’s, but I thought it was decent enough to be presented to the tens of thousands of unique readers who visit The Dagger each month.
I’m glad I chose it carefully because I didn’t know that my mug shot would, in fact, become my mug shot thanks to “Maryland’s First News Station” – WMAR-TV Channel 2 News.
Contrary to WMAR, that is not Major Mark Forwood – that is me.
Harford County’s Sheriff’s Office personnel alerted us to the switcheroo after someone pointed out to them that I am not the 43-year-old, 21-year veteran of the department who faces multiple theft charges and was fired on Tuesday.
Even Forwood’s attorney was puzzled by his suddenly different-looking client.
“I had no idea the wrong person was depicted,” Forwood’s attorney, Gus Brown, told The Dagger. “I did see the broadcast last night and thought to myself, ‘Gee, Mark sure looks different without glasses.’ Now I know why.”
HCSO personnel have declined to release a photo image of Forwood, claiming that he is now a terminated employee and, as such, they do not have the right to release his image.
But the teetering edifice of local TV news can’t be supported on mere words alone. So occasionally it has to wait until dark and see what supplies are lying around at the construction site next door. What got thrown back over the fence was my photo and selected parts of one of our stories.
I’m just glad this didn’t happen on my October story about “America’s Most Wanted” coming to Bel Air seeking the murderer of Derrick Maxey. Or that Forwood wasn’t charged with something even more serious. My trip to Subway today might not have been so uneventful.
WMAR News Director Kelly Groft apologized profusely for the error Thursday, which she said occurred in preparation for airing the story Wednesday afternoon, during a day when she was not at work. A news photographer working on the story did an image search for a photo of Forwood, saw the photo of me, and moused over it. According to her, information attached to the photo indicated the pixel size of the photo and the text “Forwood”.
“[He] didn’t click further, [he] made a very basic mistake,” Groft said. “Didn’t click further into the article to see that it was, in fact, not Mark Forwood. I can’t believe it happened, to be honest with you.”
“He did not follow any standards. Whether he took it from you or from anyone else, he did not follow standards and do due diligence and do any digging into it. Yesterday is beyond my comprehension.”
The story, in which my image appears three times, aired at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m., she said, and a version was on the Web for about 12 hours. Fortunately for our pals at WMAR, I have a sense of humor. But what I also have is a pretty developed sense of journalism ethics.
The photo misfire is just dumb – but it’s not the only instance of shoplifting on this story.
WMAR’s online story from Wednesday, third paragraph:
Forwood, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator, faces a new charge of theft under $1,000 in connection with a Sunday incident in Bel Air.
The lede from our Monday story:
Major Mark Forwood, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator, faces a new charge of theft under $1,000 in connection with a Sunday incident in Bel Air.
There are plenty of other instances where this happens, both involving images we create and stories we break. We’re flattered that people turn to us to get their news – Cindy Mumby is the best investigative education reporter for three or four different local news outlets, probably – we just wish they wouldn’t use it as their own.
Some out there might say that while WMAR is a reputable news station, we’re “just some blog” and anything we post is fair game for any “real media.” They’d frame this as an issue of old media vs. new media.
But that’s where I lose my sense of humor. What this really is, is an issue of lazy media vs. new media. The Dagger team works long nights and weekends to put together a news outlet that Harford County can trust, one which provides factual, checked-out information before anyone else, and a lively forum for discussion. This isn’t some hypothetical media theory debate. This is real people, working for no pay, to provide a community service.
To argue that those efforts don’t matter because we’re “just a blog” is to argue that local business should roll over and die because it’s just not big enough. It’s to argue that Home Depot should help themselves to Courtland Hardware’s inventory. That Quizno’s should open next to Little NY Deli. That Barnes and Noble should go burn down Washington Street Books. That we should feel free to use any of WMAR’s video on our stories.
To be fair, WMAR doesn’t see it that way, Groft said. Since she became news manager a year and a half ago, she said she’s been working to hold staff to strict standards of sourcing, and trying to enforce the correct way to follow up on another outlet’s stories.
And they were responsive in erasing the screw-up. When the sheriff’s office contacted WMAR about the mistake Thursday morning, things started coming off the Web. The picture from my high school reunion disappeared from their story online, and the video from the news broadcast was made unavailable – although we still have a version archived, undoubtedly so Goodman can play it at my wedding.
So they’ve removed every reference to my alter ego as Mark Forwood. Except the one that now occurs when you Google “Mark Forwood.”
I was always told that, as a reporter, you can never tell what stories you’ll end up permanently connected to.
UPDATE: WMAR added a brief correction to their Web version of the story.