Why people get mad at the media, part l

Pub date August 4, 2006
SectionBruce Blog

We have a tenant on the third floor of our Guardian building at l35 Mississippi St, at the bottom of Potrero Hill in San Francisco, called Digg.com, a new and bustling and highly publicized Dot.com operation.

It is getting lots of publicity these days and so I was highly interested to find that the company founder was displayed in full color on the front page of the Aug. l4th edition of Business Week magazine. He was a good looking young guy of 29, obviously full of Mexican jumping beans, wearing a T-shirt and some sort of earphones beneath a cap turned backwards. He was doing a jaunty thumbs up and between his thumbs in the middle of his T-shirt was the headline: “How this kid Made $60 million in l8 months, Digg.com’s Kevin Rose leads a new brat pack of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.”

I opened the magazine and read the lead: “It was June 26, 4:45 a.m. and Digg Founder Kevin Rose was slugging back tea and trying to keep his eyes open as he drove his Volkswagen Golf to Digg’s headquarters above the grungy offices of the SF Weekly in Potrero Hill.”

I was astounded. The article had three major factual errors in the first three lines of the opening paragraph. First: Digg.com, we are happy to report, is a good tenant on the third floor of the Guardian building. Second: the SF Weekly is our chain competitor, the Village Voice/New Times conglomerate based in Phoenix, Arizona, with offices on the other side of Mission Bay near the Giants ballpark. We are suing the VVM/NT for predatory pricing. Third: we don’t have “grungy offices.” Did this pattern of factual errors, I wondered, continue throughout the piece?

Well, to be objective and fair, I am known to have a grungy desk and many people have commented on it through the years and it has even attracted a bit of publicity. In fact, there is a photo of me, sitting amidst a mountain of papers and books, grinding away on my trusty Royal typewriter (which I call fondly my l876 Royal), in the l988 edition of the book titled “A Day in the Life of California.” There is a similar photo of me at my grungy desk, back in the early l970s, in an old National Geographic magazine, with the cutline: If a writer in San Francisco was going to write like Mark Twain, he would be writing for the Bay Guardian. Reporter Sarah Phelan, hearing me mutter the word “grungy,” immediately pointed out that “grungy” is cool. She may be right. I am not going to argue the point.

However, I was curious to know how a major national business publication, an ornament of McGraw-Hill publishing, could make three such major embarrassing factual mistakes in its lead story. I also wanted to know what McGraw-Hill was going to do about it and what its policy was on corrections and retractions. I was also curious to know the whereabouts and the credits of the two writers, Sarah Lacy and Jessi Hempel, so I could ask them directly how this happened. Perhaps I could orient them over a Potrero Hill martini at the
Connecticut Yankee.

So I went to the phone book and found a Business Week office at 160 Spear St., in San Francisco, phone number 260-5390. I called and gave my questions to the young lady who answered the phone. Oh, she said, you will have to call Elizabeth Moses, an editorial assistant, at our editorial offices in San Mateo at 650-372-3980. I promptly called the number and got one of those deadly you’ll-not-get-in-here-if-we-can-help-it computer answering systems. After some fumbling and bumbling, I did get through to a voice mail with a name that I could not quite distinguish who told me she was unavailable right now but directed me to leave my phone number and email so that she could contact me. I did so. And I am now waiting patiently for an answer.

I will file my next bulletin as soon as I get the word back from Business Week/McGraw-Hill. Good luck and good night, or was it good night and good luck, B3

P.S. l: Wow! “$60 million in l8 months?” I must be in the wrong line of work.

P.S. 2: You will note that I say Giants ballpark. After the name changed from PacBell park (bad enough), to SBC park (terrible) to AT@T park (godawful), I will never again use any formal corporate name of any kind for the ball park. In this blog, it will always be the Giants ballpark in San Francisco. I hope you understand. B3

Here is what happened to Lani Silver, a Bay Guardian reader and occasional Bay Guardian contributor in an e-mail she sent to me:

I am still waiting for a call back from the San Francisco 49ers. Six weeks ago I saw a headline in the S.F. Chronicle that announced the campaign to build a new stadium, for $600-800 million. The sub-headline, said that if anything fell through, the team reserves the right to move to Santa Clara.

As a native San Franciscan, I called John York’s office to suggest that they not make an announcement and threaten a population in the same breathe. After being transferred a half dozen times, I left a message on a voice-mail system meant for community feed-back. I wanted to tell York and others, but wound up telling a machine that it’s rude to launch a campaign and threaten a city in the same moment. I thought my comment to the 49ers would be a valuable p.r. tip for the company.

This is what happens with big companies. You can never reach the top managers. You’ll get transferred many times and then you’ll have to leave a message on a machine that will never get to the people for whom they were intended.

I left my message, something nicely put about jamming a stadium down a community’s throat, when there is a perfectly fine stadium already, and how a corporation should not say that if they don’t get what they want, a billion dollar stadium that they will move. I am still waiting for a call.