Journalists love a good sob story about poverty. But is it always a full story? “Always check public records before you run a sob story,” warned Jim Romnesko on his media-news website. The Chicago Tribune failed to do its homework in a Labor Day story on Henry Wolfson, a 66-year-old longtime substitute teacher who’s been living in a homeless shelter the last four months.
Students felt so sorry for the teacher after reading the Labor Day feature that they went out and raised about $40,000. Weeks later, the Tribune located the rest of the story: “The teacher had gambled away close to $180,000, a fact the newspaper failed to mention.” Oops:
Wolfson had received $247,000 in 2007 from a trust established by his late parents, as well as $12,000 in 2011 from the settlement of a lawsuit against his sister and her husband. …[He] said Thursday that he had lost about $180,000 betting on horses in a little more than a year at off-track betting parlors.
Mention of the inheritance was in public court files that the Tribune did not consult before the column appeared. The newspaper published a clarification Thursday that said the column about Wolfson should have laid out those details about his finances.