Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Are Journalists Oversensitive?

Are journalists oversensitive? Naah. Just hyper-over-totally-ridiculously-sensitive -- and I can prove it.

Take a look at this blog by Bruce B. Brugmann, founder, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the past four decades.

Seems the Guardian was not mentioned in passing in a controversial, puffy Business Week cover on Digg.com's Kevin Rose, which has gotten a lot of flack for overhyping Rose and using numbers that didn't add up. Seems BW did not say that the Guardian's offices were "grungy."

I repeat: the BW story did not say that the Guardian's offices were "grungy"!

No. What BW said was that its competitor's offices were grungy but it was really referring to the Guardian!

Think of it. The effrontery. The loss of status. Such a slight must be avenged, and Mr. Brugmann has been going ballistic over it in his blog.

I'll let Mr. Brugmann take it from here, in a letter that he sent to BW and posted on his blog:

First, you wrote that Digg.Com was situated “above the grungy offices of the SF Weekly in Potrero Hill.” This is incorrect: Digg.com is situated above the offices of the San Francisco Bay Guardian in the Guardian building, which we own. SF Weekly, our major competitor, has offices on the other side of Mission Bay. Second: our offices are not “grungy.”
You rightly corrected the first mistake in your online edition (not in your print edition). But you have refused, again and again, to honor my simple request for a retraction and explanation in your print and online editions of how your reporters and editors got their facts so wrong. Your reporters and editors did not visit the Guardian offices nor can they specify just what is so ”grungy” about the Guardian, our offices, and our building. In short, your correction has only made an “atrocious” mistake even more “atrocious,” the word used by.....

I'll interrupt this rant to point out that buried in the above is a halfway sort-of legitimate complaint, apart from confusing one paper for another.

If the authors of the article just assumed that the SF Weekly offices were "grungy," and had no basis for saying so, that is a big no-no.

But if the authors of the story had information that the offices were "grungy" -- even without having visited it -- then I don't see the problem.

However -- aha! We have a "gotcha" moment here. His letter continued:

.....your writer in her conversation with me. Why? What great journalistic principle is at stake in refusing to correct or remove the word “grungy” from your story?

So I posted on my Bruce blog at SFBG.com some candid snapshots of our building and our offices. [emphasis added] I invite your staff and your readers to go to my blog and judge for yourself. And I invite you to leave your splendorous offices in mid-town Manhattan and come to San Francisco. I will give you a personal tour of our “grungy offices” and serve you a Potrero Hill martini in my office.

(signed) Bruce B. Brugmann, founder, editor, printing the news and raising hell and spreading sunshine inside and outside San Francisco since l966.
The photographs posted by Mr. Brugmann do indeed indicate that the Guardian's offices are not grungy.

Of course, maybe there are grungy parts of the offices that were not photographed by Mr. Brugmann. Or perhaps they were grungy at the time the article was written.

This is a serious issue, far more important than Lebanon, the economy or even Mark Cuban. I intend to give it round-the-clock coverage. BW has a full-time, high-masthead "ethics editor" and this is a chance for him to earn his salary.

Meanwhile I am glad that Mr. Brugmann, after so many years on the job, is still spreading sunshine and proving that journalists are the most oversensitive people in the whole wide world world. Unless he is joking, and (gulp) I don't think he is.

© 2006 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.


Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site.


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