The mother of all corrections, plus a dream job deferred and ESPN’s newest documentary

August 8, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Thursday morning. The big media story of the past 36 hours was Tucker Carlson of Fox News claiming concerns about white supremacy are a hoax and a conspiracy theory being used to divide the country. It’s such a ridiculous claim that it hardly seems worth amplifying. But, if you’re interested, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan has a worthwhile take at the bottom of today’s newsletter.

The mother of all corrections

If you go to freelancer Korsha Wilsons’s story on The Washington Post website about black families trying to hold on to their ancestors’ land, it might take you longer to read the correction than the story itself.

You’ve never seen a correction like this: 579 words covering 15 items that had to be corrected or clarified. The problems ranged from misspelled names to wrong dates to important details that simply weren’t accurate.

The first thought is, how in the world did this story get published? Any publication, even a high school one, would be embarrassed to have this many problems with one story. Any respectable newspaper would do some soul searching if it had 15 corrections in a month, let alone one story. The fact that it was The Washington Post makes it all the more baffling.

The Post isn’t saying much about what went wrong on the story, originally published July 23. Executive Editor Marty Baron, in a statement, said, “We are embarrassed by the widespread errors in this freelance article. We have published a detailed correction of each error and updated the story based on re-reporting by Post staff.”

Here’s where I’ll get beat up, but I actually applaud the Post for the correction.

Hear me out. Granted, that story getting published is sloppy, irresponsible and inexcusable. How can a writer get this much wrong? How can an editor (or editors) let that many mistakes get past them? Such mistakes erode reader confidence. They do real damage. The Post needs to do some serious investigating, particularly when it comes to vetting freelancers and their stories.

But in further proof that news outlets really do care about getting things right, the Post published a correction so long and so detailed that editors surely knew would it cause condemnation and ridicule. The Post, however, put truth over pride. That should be recognized, and applauded.

Here’s your job offer — just kidding!


Sportswriter Ellis Williams. (Photo courtesy of Ellis Williams)

Here’s a heartbreaking story that I wrote for Poynter.org. Ellis Williams is a 25-year-old sportswriter who was offered a job covering Oklahoma State University for The Oklahoman and its award-winning sports section. He accepted and was all set to start next week. Then he got bad news. The Oklahoman rescinded the offer.

What happened? GateHouse Media, which owns The Oklahoman, implemented a hiring freeze that led to The Oklahoman withdrawing the offer.

 

“It was completely blindsiding and it left me dumbfounded,” Ellis told me Wednesday. “Really, it was a gut-punch and I felt in the dark there, to be honest.”

Kelly Dyer Fry, publisher/editor and vice president of news at The Oklahoman, told me in an email, “Ellis is a talented young man and we wish him all the best. There is never an easy way to make difficult cost-saving decisions. Trying to save local journalism can sadly break hearts.”

This is a horrible look for both GateHouse and The Oklahoman. In today’s rickety media landscape, you can understand hiring freezes and cost-cutting and all that. But to withdraw an offer that was already made and accepted is disgraceful. Just this week, GateHouse and Gannett announced a merger that will make it the largest — by far — newspaper chain in the country. They can’t find a way to pay some young sportswriter the small salary he would have made?

To his credit, Williams is handling it with class. He said he holds no animosity toward The Oklahoman and knows it wasn’t personal. Still, he got a raw deal.

Fortune continues to shine on NY Times


New York Police officers take into custody activists during a climate change rally outside of The New York Times building last month. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter’s media business analyst Rick Edmonds:

As usual, New York Times Co. finances, reported for the second quarter Wednesday, look very positive compared to those of regional newspaper companies. Digital paid subscriptions were up net 131,000 for news and another 66,000 for crosswords and cooking verticals to a total of 4.7 million.

Digital circulation revenue, digital advertising revenue and overall revenue were up compared to the quarter a year ago — though print advertising and circulation fell.

The Times did miss the profit level analysts had been expecting, mainly because costs increased. That, in turn, traced to the heavy expense promoting new subscriptions and to churn of the subscription base as trial offers expire.

While trying new tactics to capture the interest of occasional readers, Times executives told analysts that their main strategy is to continue to invest in editorial quality. The paper and its sites expect to have 1,750 journalists by the end of the year — the highest total ever.

Enough already about that headline

You have to be careful to base too much on Twitter reaction, but the pushback against The New York Times for the headline controversy continues to surprise and mystify me.

Was the original headline following President Donald Trump’s speech about the mass shootings of last weekend somewhat misleading? Yes, even the Times admitted it was a bad headline, which is why it quickly changed it for later editions. But this idea of cancelling subscriptions seems absurd.

The Times has well over 1,000 journalists working around the clock 365 days a year, consistently putting out among the very best journalism on the planet. One person on deadline on one night made a mistake that wasn’t even that bad of a mistake. Deciding to never read the Times again over that is ludicrous.

It also makes you wonder if this overreaction is really about people being angry that the Times, in its effort to practice responsible journalism, doesn’t go as far at blasting Trump as some readers want it to.

Documenting sports’ unresolved issues


Serena Williams talks with referee Brian Earley during the women’s final of the U.S. Open against Naomi Osaka of Japan in 2018. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

ESPN is launching a new documentary called “Backstory,” which will be hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winner Don Van Natta Jr. The debut will air Aug. 18 at 1 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on ABC and then will have multiple re-airs on various ESPN platforms.

That first show — “Serena vs. The Umpire” — will look at the 2018 U.S. Open women’s tennis final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Osaka won the match, which is memorable for Williams’ clash with the chair umpire that left Osaka in tears afterwards.

The second episode will be about baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson on the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox scandal, when the 1919 Chicago White Sox allegedly threw the World Series.

“We’re exploring stories that are unresolved and have layers to them, and that’s certainly the case with what happened at last year’s U.S. Open women’s final,” said John Dahl, vice president and executive producer, ESPN special projects and original content, in a statement.

More papers go to 6 days a week in print

The trend continues. McClatchy announced Wednesday that three more newspapers will stop publishing a print product on Saturdays. This announcement comes a week after three other McClatchy papers announced the same thing. The changes go into effect Nov. 9.

The latest six papers to cut back to printing six days a week are: the Tri-City (Washington) Heraldthe San Luis Obispo (California) TribuneThe Island Packet and Beaufort (South Carolina) GazetteThe Modesto (California) BeeThe Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat and the Centre (Pennsylvania) Daily Times.

Those papers join the McClatchy-owned Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Sun News, The Durham (North Carolina) Herald Sun and the Bellingham (Washington) Herald as six-day-a-week publications with Saturdays reserved exclusively for digital.

The papers insist that coverage won’t change. They plan on more expansive Friday and Sunday sections and will still put news online 24 hours a day, including Saturdays. But this feels like an obvious attempt to wean readers off the print product while saving on print and delivery costs. It would not be surprising to see more McClatchy papers cut back on the number of days they print.

When I spoke to Sara Glines, McClatchy’s Carolinas and East regions president and publisher, in June, she said, “This is not a change in our content strategy. What this is is a way to start looking at our digital product and promoting that more to our readership.”

Hot type


Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Fox News’ Tucker Carlson says white supremacy is a hoax. The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan responds. And Carlson’s response to everyone else’s response? Be nice and calm down.
  • My favorite show of the past year, HBO’s “Succession,” returns for a second season starting Sunday. It’s sorta, kinda loosely based on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and family. And it’s a blast. The Ringer’s Allison Herman gets you ready for season two.
  • The El Paso Times’ Timothy Archuleta with an open letter to President Donald Trump about his city.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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