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Topic: When you're right -- and then you're wrong

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SF_Express, Dec 8, 2006.

  1. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    I started to post this on the Richie Rodriguez thread, but I figured it might make a pretty good sustained discussion here and wouldn't get so lost. So I'm starting something here.

    Columbo got it going in my mind when he said something to the effect: "Whether it was right in the first place, if it's wrong at the end, then it's wrong."

    And in terms of the readers view things, he's 100 percent right. In fact, although we were on the edges of the Rodriguez story, we did have one piece written based on the fact it was a done deal -- and then, it course, it wasn't and we're now hearing it in feedback.

    But this is going to be a problem we wrestle with all the time in this environment. And we're going to have some hard choices, to either hold stories until the official announcement, or report things we've got cold and then live with the circumstances if things change, or both -- depending on the importance of the story, the source, etc.

    We had a very similar case at our place two or three years ago. One of our main beat guys was told by a source that a big-name coach was leaving one place, and going someplace else, and that it would be announced the next day. The source: the coach.

    We reported the story, and overnight, he changed his mind. And we got roasted for it.

    So here's one thing: Somebody said on the Rodriguez thread that if that happens, then you out the guy -- he lied, and he deserves it.

    But a couple of things: 1) In our case, he DIDN'T lie. When he said it, it was true. He had a change of heart. 2) If we start outing sources when the circumstances turn on us, we're going to stop having sources. Some might think that's a good thing. But media outlets that don't trust sources in this sports environment are going to get their asses beat regularly. Maybe we shouldn't mind that, either.

    Bottom line: In this 24/7 digital and broadcast environment, we're going to be doing this high wire act all the time, and if you want to play with the big boys, you're going to get burned from time to time.

    I certainly think we're going to have to start being a lot more circumspect about using "a friend close to a source close to the program" crap. But when you've got one of the two principals in a deal saying it's done, it's very had to say, "Gee, we need more." WHAT more? The new employer or the new employee says it's done. You're going to sit on that every time just in case they change their minds?

    Sorry, that's the nature of our business now. We don't have the built-in lag that we used to have when it was strictly print, time for things to cool off and shake out, and minds to change. And that's just the way it is.

    Unless you want to sit out altogether. And then, believe me, if everybody's got a story but you, readers are going to notice -- then might not compare the times things are posted. But if every site but yours -- or every local paper site but yours -- has a story and you don't, that'll register.

  2. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Active Member

    One lesson worth relearning is be careful exactly what you report. There is a difference between "Rodriguez will be Alabama's next coach" and "Rodriguez appeared to have a deal in principle late Thursday night" or "a source said Alabama officials think Rodriguez will accept" or whatever. I think too many reporters don't hear what their sources are telling them, and they try to make the info fit into the preconceived notion of that big headline that should go with the story they want to write.

    A TV station here reported nine days ago that LSU would play in the Rose Bowl (no conditions, no "if USC wins," etc.). Stupid.
  3. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    All good points. Maybe it's simply a matter of more restrained language. "Unless circumstances change drastically, it appears Rich Rodriguez will be the next football coach at Alabama." And report it that way until the welcoming press conference.
  4. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    It happens. It's minor compared with the people who write anything all the time and don't care that they're wrong 80 percent of the time.

    Once when I was reporting, Lyndon
    Johnson's top guy gave me the word
    they were looking for a successor to
    J. Edgar Hoover. I wrote it and the
    day it appeared Johnson called a
    press conference and appointed Hoover
    head of the FBI for life... And when
    he was done, he turned to his top
    guy and the President said, "Call
    Ben Bradlee and tell him fuck you."
    (shakes his head)
    I took a lot of static for that--
    everyone said, "You did it, Bradlee,
    you screwed up--you stuck us with
    Hoover forever--"
    (looks at WOODWARD
    and BERNSTEIN)
    --I screwed up but I wasn't wrong.
  5. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Always loved that part of the movie.

    And we KNOW people in the business who throw everything and anything out there an hope it sticks. But I'll bet you a lot of people reporting this Alabama people were "right" ... and then, of course, they weren't.
  6. Flying Headbutt

    Flying Headbutt Moderator Staff Member

    I still maintain some of these guys need to be named. Heck give them a chance to explain why they were wrong and such, but you make me look like an ass and I'm not protecting you. Otherwise I look like the uncredible one, instead of the guy just reporting what someone supposedly credible has to say.
  7. Flying Headbutt

    Flying Headbutt Moderator Staff Member

    Well if they're just wrong, give them a chance to explain, but put it on the record. I've never covered a college beat before, but if it's just boosters and donors and stuff who like to feel like they're in the know, you can't let them have it both ways. I just can't help but feel that there is a lot of transparency needed, and too much willingess to ignore that need.
  8. shockey

    shockey Active Member

    isn't this similat to the ny daily news-torre to be fired by steinbrenner story? the old "he changed his mind" routine.

    all you can do is report it with the proviso, "barring a last-minute change of heart...."
  9. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Yes, I agree...until the paper is signed, there has to be some mitigating language in there....I think...but...no, that's right...I guess we should all learn.
  10. awriter

    awriter Active Member

    Do that and no one will talk to you again. You agreed to give that person anonymity, and that's the risk. Sometimes, you get burned. But we also need people who are willing to talk off the record.
  11. Flying Headbutt

    Flying Headbutt Moderator Staff Member

    No, you give them anonymity under the assumption that what they're telling you is right and truthful. If they simply thought it was, well, give them a chance to explain. If they were bullshitting you from the get go, well why would you protect and want to talk to a guy that does that to you? If you're using unnamed sources, at least use reliable ones. Why would you want to talk to unreliable ones?
  12. Columbo

    Columbo Active Member

    If you have those sort of people quoted, then it isn't the same issue as the Rodriguez coverage.

    And... you can say he lied till you're blue in the face.

    Readers don't believe you.

    They think all the writers were wrong... never had it.
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