Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bay Citizen, NYT Partner, Violates
Correction Code on Bookstore Piece

Every Friday the New York Times' San Francisco edition runs two-pages of stories produced by Bay Citizen, a non-profit online news service funded by billionaire Warren Hellman who is chairman of the BC board. Founded in 2010, the partnership between BC and the Times is just one reason why the news site gets lots of attention and ink in the San Francisco area.

The BC's Scott James on April 2 wrote a piece on his blog about the sad demise of A Different Light bookstore on Castro Street and he referenced the closure of the Modern Times shop in the Mission. I blogged about the piece and my headline reflected James' reporting that both bookstores were going out of business.

James said: "This [shuttering of the Castro store] comes on the heels of the closure of the Mission's Modern Times, another independent progressive bookstore."

A reader complained that I was wrong about Modern Times closing, and that the socialist bookstore was moving out of its current location and expects to find a new space and reopen for business again in a few short month. I went back to BC's story to check their wording on this store's status.

The James piece was altered. It now says: "This comes on the heels of the possible (albeit temporary) closure of the Mission's Modern Times, another independent progressive bookstore."

That is quite a change of facts, but I couldn't find any correction notice from the BC on the story's page. Given the pedigree and partners of the BC I would expect to inform readers of any significant amending to original reporting on their site. Off went a note to James and BC editor Jonathan Weber, seeking an explanation.

Did the site amend their reporting without telling the reader? Where was the correction note explaining the change and why?

The managing editor, Jeanne Cartensen, sent this reply, bolding mine: "Thanks so much for this note. What you point out is correct -- Scott James' post was updated without documenting the change, which is a violation of our own policy. The mistake has now been corrected. If you go to the post now, it says that it was updated after the post was published when we learned that the closure of Modern Times might not necessarily be permanent."

My follow up asked if the reporter or an editor was responsible for the violation. Cartensen said: "It wasn't Scott, it was an editor error."

Oh, that sounds sloppy. And what does the now-amended-with-a-note page say about the changed reporting? "Since this post was written we learned that the closure of Modern Times isn't necessarily permanent, so the phrase 'possible (albeit temporary)' was added above."

Interesting they learned after April 2 about Modern Times' temporary closing, because the original James story linked to the March 15 post at the BC site about, um, that temporary closing of the Mission district book shop. Odd, to say the least, BC editors weren't aware of their earlier reporting.

What I do know is a few mistakes were made by BC folks, they've owned up to them and have made public amends. That is good and laudable. Keeping nonprofit online news sites such as the Bay Citizen adhering to responsible rules regarding amending original stories is beneficial to them and their readers.

Editors at the New York Times might want to ask their BC colleagues about applying corrections' standard fairly and consistently, to their news partner practices the best journalism possible in the pages of the Gray Lady and online.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Hi Michael -

Thanks for covering this. When we at Modern Times Bookstore issued a press release announcing our impending move - around the time A Different Light was making headlines - both Scott James and Andy Walker of the Bay Citizen wrote stories with headlines inaccurately announcing our "closure." Unfortunately, no one at the Bay Citizen contacted us in regards to these stories, and they were picked up widely.

When we were made aware of the coverage, which had reached our distributors, I contacted the Bay Citizen to request a correction.
Subsequently, alterations were made to the previous articles and Reyhan Harmanci wrote an additional one. We have since contacted them again and Reyhan has informed me that a correction has been filed; I was also assured that the BC is considering improvements to their website so that such corrections are more visible.

The good news, as you've heard, is that we'll be moving to 2919 24th Street! Please come by! And we're happy to be contacted or comment on any story about us, any time!


Kate Maxwell and MTBS Collective