NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Issues at WGLT's transmitter site are temporarily limiting our broadcast signal to low power. Thanks for your patience as we make repairs.
Local News

Editor's Note Regarding Green Top Grocery Story

Exterior of Green Top
Ryan Denham

In the days since WGLT posted a story about upheaval at the Green Top Grocery co-op, a lot of people have said a lot of things about the story and a lot more about those involved in it. It is, after all, a story about developments caused by a large amount of social media buzz, and that activity did not stop with the resignation of the board.

WGLT News believes our reporting process should be transparent and accountable. This note addresses some of the questions that have come up and adds information that lends nuance to what is still going on.

Why the heck should the community care about a story highlighting dysfunction at a small grocery co-op? Why do a story at all?

WGLT has done extensive reporting on the locally sourced food movement over a period of years. Green Top is part of that. The organization has more than 2,400 owners and a significant non-owner constituency. A measurable chunk of the community has an interest in the organization. WGLT had watched the Green Top controversy develop for weeks. In our view, it didn’t merit a story until something significant happened. The entire co-op board resigned. That’s highly unusual for any community group and, considering the community constituency for the organization, worth a story.

Why didn’t WGLT interview some of the protagonists for the story?

This was an event coverage story, not a deep policy dive and did not need an in-depth treatment. The sources for the story were what the board said about its reasons for departing in an email to owners, social media posts used to establish some background without getting into the weeds and litigating the dispute about board member conduct, and what board members and the interim Green Top General manager said at a co-op Board meeting about the situation and the road forward.

Why did WGLT link to a social media post that included unproven allegations against former Green Top board member Melanie Shellito?

To set the stage and give a modest amount of background: Media outlets routinely report on allegations, even if pending or not fully litigated. For better or worse, the Facebook post by Michael Talley is a primary source related to the board decision to resign. It provides context for the rest of the story.

We often link to documents in stories that offer outside information. Legal filings, databases, FOIA’d documents, emails from sources, and videos all may offer nuance and supporting information to our stories. Some of these kinds of documents include things that are debatable or perhaps demonstrably untrue. The documents or posts themselves are sometimes part of the news.

The Talley post was already widely known. Again, the events that led to the board resignation developed over time. The board voice is not the only voice present in the upheaval. Talley’s voice is part of the story.

Notably, Talley’s original Facebook post June 12 did not name Shellito. It was left vague. It referred only “former President of the Board and current Board Member.”

A short review of the timeline the evening of Tuesday, June 23, is instructive.

9:40 p.m. A WGLT reporter forwards a draft of the story to an editor.

10 p.m. The editor publishes the online story.

10:10 p.m. A second WGLT editor adds the link to the Talley Facebook post with the idea it would provide additional understanding of the dispute for readers.

10:16 p.m. The second editor shares a link to the WGLT story on Facebook and Twitter.

10:51 p.m. Talley edits his Facebook post and adds Shellito’s name to it for the first time, according to the Edit History of the post. (Talley later told WGLT he did this to avoid confusion and "innocent parties being blamed and possibly targeted by upset staff members.")

11:03 p.m. Shellito emails the WGLT reporter praising the story as “balanced.”

11:24 p.m. Having subsequently noticed the link, Shellito emails the WGLT reporter again criticizing the story for including the link without seeking her comment on the allegations against her and saying she “expected better of WGLT.”

11:32 p.m. Talley complains on a private Facebook group called Green Top Accountability Coalition that “Melanie wasn’t mentioned once,” in reference to the WGLT story, even though his edit had already indirectly made his statement false. Talley is a co-administrator of the group.

11:40 p.m. The WGLT reporter adds Shellito’s denial of the allegations to the story to fix the problem induced by Talley’s edit of his Facebook post. The reporter then notifies Shellito of the change.

11:52 p.m. Shellito responds to WGLT, asks the link be removed, and indicates she is pursuing legal action against Talley.

All WGLT can do as a news organization is have an honest process and make the best judgments we can at the time. The Green Top story passed through three hands that night: the reporter and two editors. The timeline illustrates our efforts to be accurate and fair. It also indicates a flaw in our process that allowed changes to a source document to create a journalistic error.

In the future, WGLT will make efforts to capture static versions of supporting documents and host them on our website. Often, this won’t be necessary. Government documents or non-controversial explanatory information likely can continue to remain links. In this case a static version of the document was necessary. We apologize.