Saturday, March 1, 2008

Detroit link-o-rama


Spent Friday and Saturday at a men's Anglican retreat at the St. John's Retreat Center in Livonia. (correction: Plymouth, thanks DP) In addition to the great information I learned about the Bible and the wonderful fellowship with a bunch of Christian men, I had a chance to visit with Father Richard Dalton who has a wonderful website full of links that cover much of what is important in the Detroit Metropolitan Area.

Music, theater, weather, sports, web guides, etc. are all there at:

There are thousands of local links and an extensive media guide. Do give it a try and if you forget the link, it will be posted on my links at the upper right hand part of my blog.

And if you ever get a chance to spend time at a retreat at St. John's, do it! It is a very comfortable setting, beautiful grounds and unlike some of the old "bunkhouse" retreat centers, each member has their own clean motel style room. (No TV or phone, it is a retreat after all).

Great quote!

Found this on

Angry Journalist #1261:
Great site!
“I am not the editor of a newspaper and I shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.”Mark Twain

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fixed on fixin'

See addition (in bold faced italic type) to article a few inches down.....
Last night I spent nearly three hours reading my new favorite website - For a journalist this is a must read. The author has assembled and catalogued the major mistakes, plagarists and fabrications for the past four years.

It's a great site and I again commend it to your reading.
Reading three hours of sad stories of journalists who cheated and humorous tidbits of newspaper mistakes brought to mind the continuing effort at my former paper to eradicate the "correction."
For the record, I'm very much for improving the accuracy of newspapers, but the Journal's efforts are sometimes laughable.

Just this past Sunday (Feb. 24), again, the Journal editor wrung his hands publicly in his column and told his readers how hard the paper was working to eliminate mistakes. Heck, when I was there he offered a semi-annual drawing for a $20 gas card among reporters who had gone six months without having to post a correction.

At the meeting where this "carrot" was announced I told him I thought the offer was demeaning and that any good journalist should avoid mistakes out of professional pride and that vying for a $20 gas card was insulting. But the offer remained and the only winners (so far) have been a woman who compiles the wedding announcements and a graphic page designer. Now that's really fair! You take people who handled pre-written copy into the mix of reporters dealing with complicated interviews, facts, figures and working under deadling and consider them equals.

Whenever there is a carrot there is also a stick. To fend off mistakes, the paper required detailed memos of how the mistake was made, the requirement of an apology letter to the person the mistake was about (if applicable). So far they haven't made a reporter write a letter to Third Avenue apologizing for calling it a street). Anyway, the paper had a vigorous program to stop corrections and punish offenders.

With no consideration for the complexity of beats, the number of stories produced or hours worked, a quota of four mistakes per year were the drop dead limit with a threat of discipline and firing if additional corrections were tallied. Some reporters were told that they were on the brink of dismissal if they had any more corrections. What do you think that does to the incentive of admitting a mistake?

I know for a fact that some reporters deliberately deflected requests for corrections ("I'll make sure I get it right next time") in order to avoid having to come under the correction program.
One of the duties of the managing editor is to keep a daily list of corrections. He keeps a daily chart of who has sent letters, who has sent their memo to him and the editor-in-chief. It's nice to know that someone has plenty of time on his hands.

Heck if the reporters had that kind of time to do a story, that would go a longer way to eliminating the need for a $20 gas card incentive.

But let's talk about a correction that was not reported. Last year, an alert editor noted a disturbing trend among one reporter who in a matter of minutes could find a random citizen to comment on even the most obscure subject or event.

Suspicious, the editor attempted to locate any of his most recent sources for feature articles. None of them could be found through traditional means (phone books, etc.) Then she asked the reporter to produce the sources and he could not. The editor-in-chief confronted the reporter about a number of suspect fabricated sources in several stories and the reporter abruptly resigned rather than providing the sources.

And what did the Journal report to its readers about the fabricated sources?

Zero, zip, nada. No apology letters, no flogging, no nothing. Pass Go and collect your $20 gas card. So how serious are you really when you insist on correcting the little errors, but then cover up the biggest screw up of the year? Not very.

Update: A former Journal colleague, who is now gainfully employed elsewhere, points out that the strict Journal correction policy could certainly contribute to the temptation to make up a source. (The colleague is not excusing the behavior) "Afterall, fake sources rarely call to say they were misquoted," the colleague said. Point taken.

Here's a big suggestion to eliminate many mistakes: Quit treating the employees like factory line workers with set quotas for the number of stories they must produce each day and give them the time to work, massage and fact check a story.

When you push and hurry people, there is less time for follow-up and fact checking calls.

P.S. The Journal refuses to explain to readers how the mistakes were made. The editor-in-charge-of-corrections says that's because readers don't care. Well even if readers don't care, staff, particularly reporters care that sources know that they got it right and that the editor or copy desk inflicted the wound. Get over this idea that you can't explain to readers who was responsible for the error.

Here's a good example: I had a pretty good record of not making mistakes. But a source gave me an incorrect name for an auctioneer for a public auction. The source called and left a taped mea culpa on my voice mail. I mentioned this to the editor-in-charge-of-corrections and even sent him a copy of the taped message. But when the correction appeared it looked as if the paper had made the mistake, or more specifically that I had made the mistake. As any reporter will tell you that kind of thing is noticed by people on your beat and damages your credibility.

But the editor-in-charge-of-corrections explained that readers don't care. Well, reporters and sources do. To steal a page from the old Clinton playbook: "It's the morale, stupid."

By the way, reporters never got letters of apology from the editors who mangled copy and made it wrong. Although a few of my favorite copy editors were very polite and apologetic when they did make an error. Not so the editor-in-charge-of-corrections.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A word about comments


As this blog is getting more and more traffic I just wanted to continue to welcome all your comments. I spent a career protecting my sources and will do so here as well.

Please feel free to leave anonymous comments (although making up a name is fun too!) as long as they are civil and without expletives. Let's leave out the real names of those who you are writing about. Even without the names the stories are still very compelling. The point of this blog is to inform, not to hurt.

One suggestion: It might be better for those still in a working newsroom to restrict your posting here to doing so from your home computer. Many newspapers stand on the first amendment and free expression, but aren't too sympathetic about employees exercising either one.

Some have asked me off line why I am so negative about the newspaper business.

The answer is easy, I am passionate about newspapers and news. When newspapers are run well they serve the community in a most important way. When they are run badly, they are at least an embarrassment and at worst irrelevant. My hope, my prayer is that the Flint Journal will find a way to return to what it was when I started there in 1989: A kick butt daily paper that people enjoyed and feared, in the best way possible. Sadly, it won't do it with the current editorial management.

So keep it clean, keep it real, but by all means, keep it coming.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The anatomy of a story not told

Congratulations to our local ABC affiliate - WJRT-12 - here in Flint for finally telling the story that could have been told by the Flint Journal last summer.

How do I know this? Because it was my story on a major mortgage scam that couldn't get by the top editors and lawyers at the Flint Journal. The reason: Fear of legal action.

Just to give you an idea of the investment we had in the story I had spent more than a week (40 hours) pulling and copying the property records for each property in the subdivision. In addition, I pulled all the tax records for each property and had called many of the banks and individuals named as owners.

My wife and I spent a romantic Friday night (on my own time and on our way home from dinner) driving slowly through the subdivision to make sure I had not missed any of the properties. With my wife's help we logged which homes were occupied, which were vacant, which were for sale and which were falling into disrepair.

I spent hours on the phone with Township Supervisor Kurt Soper, township building inspector Randy Stewart and many of the residents who were living or acquainted with the subdivision and its failings. Only two people would speak for the record out of fear of becoming a target themselves. The point being, the Journal had a significant investment in time, mileage and effort in this story.

The ABC story (see link below) has no more information than I had in August. Yes, the banks have finally filed a major lawsuit, but the reason my story was held was that Kurt Heintz refused to talk to me. His refusal to comment on a massive mortgage fraud was the reason cited to me why we couldn't go with the story. Forget that I confronted him at his front door after going to his former office and finding it closed.

Finding him was no small feat. After I found his office closed I went to his home address and found a bank security guard on duty keeping anyone from coming on the property. I did learn that the property had been seized by a bank (the one named in the Channel 12 story), but I didn't stop there.

I went next door and a nice neighbor pointed down the street to the rented home where Mr. Heintz was living and told me he was there at that time. That's when I drove down, talked to a young boy who brought Mr. Heintz to the door where he denied who he was. When I couldn't get him to admit who he was I left a business card so "Mr. Heintz" could call me later. Which, of course, he never did. This, by the way, is the same house where the stabbing occurred just a few months later.

Then the Journal's lawyers and top editor got involved and the story fell into a journalism black hole.

In the ensuing months, Heintz's wife was stabbed by an angry investor (trust me there are dozens of them as well as banks). But in August I had all the documents we needed to show a really massive fraud. Houses assessed at three times what they were worth. Dozens of homes in a high class subdivision in Davison Township standing empty and in foreclosure. But even with all the evidence, township and county documents, I could not get this story in the paper. I even had a better comment than Channel 12 from the FBI. At least I got them to confirm they were looking at the mortgage irregularities in the subdivision. I had plenty of background confirmation of what was going on as well.
So a month into my retirement I got a call from a Journal reporter - after the stabbing - asking me for all my information so they could NOW do a story on the whole mess. Unfortunately, I turned over all the documents to another reporter and frankly, was ticked off enough that I really didn't want to help. "Why would they want to run the story now with the same information I had in August?," I asked.

The next day they ran a weak follow, still not using all the documentation I had gathered.

By the way, when the Channel 12 reporter went to Heintz's door to get a comment, he got nothing as well. But at least the station went ahead with the story anyway.

The watered down story that finally appeared in the Journal was a pathetic recounting of neighbors complaints about high weeds and rotting homes and how the Township had failed to resolve their complaints. There was a passing reference to an investigation, but nothing about Heintz, his mortgage company or the massively inflated mortgages.

It was akin to an 1865 newspaper running a review of the Ford Theater play "Our American Cousin" and then mentioning in passing that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before the intermission.

Trust me, the neighbors and officials I had worked with over a month's time were stunned that the Journal did not see, or was not brave enough to tell the story last summer.

Want to know why some newspapers are failing? They are chicken.

I don't know how long it will be up, but here's the link to the Channel 12 story:

To fix, or not to fix, that is the correction

Found this great site - - and received permission to link to it from here.

I particularly liked the following page and some of the incredible corrections:

Just to whet your appetite here's a short sample:

Runner UpThe Sentinel-Review (Woodstock, Ontario):

"In an article in Monday’s newspaper, there may have been a misperception about why a Woodstock man is going to Afghanistan on a voluntary mission. Kevin DeClark is going to Afghanistan to gain life experience to become a police officer when he returns, not to shoot guns and blow things up.The Sentinel-Review apologizes for any embarrassment this may have caused."

I have placed the website link with the others on the top, right side of the page.

This would be a good place to check frequently for a little comic relief.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A couple videos about newspaper videos

Couple of short, but clever video clips that will bring a smile (or a smirk) to the faces of reporters now dealing with the demands of producing videos for newspaper webpages....

Let me know what you think

This site has touched a nerve is getting flooded with hits from angry journalists from around the world. There are a lot of people in the same boat (see Titanic photo below) and people seem to need a place to vent.
I'm not just reposting the site and moving it to the top of my links list because that site was kind enough to give me a shout out, but it certainly didn't hurt.