Why people get mad at the media, part 3, The case of “grungy offices” and “grungy journalism”


Following up my attempts to my attempt to get a full correction from Business Week/McGraw Hill:

I finally got a call yesterday (Tuesday) from Jessi Hempel, one of the two authors of the front page piece on Kevin Rose. She apologized and said the error about mixing up the Guardian and the SF Weekly/VVM/New Times offices was “atrocious” and that Business Week/McGraw Hill would correct it in their next issue.

Fine, thanks, I replied, can you read me the correction? No, she said it is our ethical policy not to do that. Why, I questioned, I need to see the proposed correction, or at least know what is in it, so that the correction does not make “the atrocious error” even more “atrocious.” For example, I said, is Business Week going to correct the phrase that states our Guardian offices are “grungy,” which Webster’s dictionary defines as meaning “shabby or dirty in character or condition.” She said this phrase would not be corrected because it was a subjective evaluation. Well, I replied, did either of you visit the Guardian offices and if so when? And specifically what is “grungy” or “shabby” or “dirty” about the Guardian offices? (I stipulated that my desk is “grungy.”) She couldn't convince me she had answers to those questions. She said she could do nothing more for me and suggested I write a letter or call her editor in New York, Elizabeth Weiner, and talk to her. Then she hung up. Click.

I then checked to see how the “correction” looked on the Business Week online version of the story. This made my point in 96 point tempo bold: The lead to the story, which of course goes out to a worldwide internet audience, now said that Digg’s offices were above the “grungy offices of the SF Bay Guardian in Potrero Hill.” This identification thus made the “atrocious mistake” even more “atrocious,” as I had feared. The Guardian is now, despite my attempts since last Friday to get a full retraction, as having “grungy” offices and the reporters on the story cannot back up or explain their use of this pejorative adjective.

I called Weiner in New York and tried to leave a message on her answering machine, but got cut off before I could complete my complaint. So I immediately called again and finished up on the second call.

It’s as if the Business Week/McGraw Hill policy on reader complaints and corrections comes down to this: complain and we’ll stick it to you, buddy. In short, we are witnessing, not some dreadful “grungy offices,” but some “grungy journalism” as practiced by Business Week/McGraw Hill. I now wonder if the reporters and editors on the story will ever be up for a Potrero Hill martini at the Connecticut Yankee. B3

P.S. l: Steve R. Hill, director of development for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska Foundation, was in our office on Tuesday as I was wrestling around with this issue. I gave him a full tour of our two floors of offices and even took him up to our rooftop for a spectacular “alternative” view of the city from Potrero Hill. He told me, for the record, that he could find nothing “grungy” about the Guardian offices or the view from the Guardian building.