Can you remember when newspapers were the best and most prevalent sources of news? Unless you’re a baby boomer or even older, you probably can’t. Newspapers were the “only game in town” a long time ago. They were virtually the only way to advertise. Newspapers had a monopoly and most of them made tons of money. If a newspaper endorsed a political candidate, he got elected. They had huge influence over legislation. Their editorials strongly influenced social behavior. If you were the publisher or an editor of a newspaper you were very powerful and had to apologize to no man.
That’s the way it was, but no longer. Many newspapers have gone out of business and those that haven’t are struggling for survival. I personally believe that good newspapers with smart management will survive albeit in a different form than we used to think of them. Newspapers will have to think of themselves just like any small business that wants to succeed. First and foremost, they must not only understand that “the customer is king” but they must act on it…walk the talk. The first rule of treating a customer like a “king” is that when you make a mistake and make the “king” unhappy you acknowledge the mistake, sincerely apologize, and then make it right. That’s how I run my small business and my great success is proof that this works.
About three weeks ago, a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, Mary Thurwatcher, interviewed my service manager, Wendy Smith, for a news story. The story was to be printed in the business section of the Palm Beach Post in a regular weekly feature entitled “Moving Up” which appears every Monday. Part of the regular format to “Moving up” is to ask the interviewee, what their favorite quotation is. It appears at the beginning of the article, just under the headline. Right under the quotation is the source, the name of the person credited with this quote. Wendy Smith, prior to becoming the service manager at Earl Stewart Toyota, worked twenty years for Southeast Toyota. For most of that time, Jim Moran was the owner and CEO of Southeast Toyota, her boss and mentor. In answer to the reporter’s question, “what is your favorite quotation?”, Wendy answered, “The future belongs to he who prepares for it”. Wendy told her that Jim Moran was the source of that quotation.
The Palm Beach Post reporter wrote a fine story about Wendy including the quotation. It was to run on the following Monday. Friday night, before that Monday, I checked with the Palm Beach Post’s website and found the story online. I was shocked to discover that the source of this quotation at the top of the article had been changed. Instead of Jim Moran being listed, the source of “The future belongs to he who prepares for it” was Malcolm X, the infamous racist hate monger and anti-Semite. It couldn’t have angered and frightened me much more if the article had listed Adolph Hitler.
My customer demographic is largely white, older, above average education and a significant percentage of my customers are Jewish. Virtually every customer I have was reading online that my service manager’s hero and mentor was Malcolm X! On Monday, those that missed the online article would see it in the newspaper. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to reach anybody in authority at a newspaper on the weekend, typically you can’t even find anybody to report that your newspaper wasn’t delivered until the following Monday. It was a miracle that a woman that works for me was able to get through to someone that was able to change the article’s quote. This effort took until late afternoon on Saturday before I was assured.
The reporter, Mary Thurwatcher, told us that she had written and submitted the quote just as given her by Wendy with Jim Moran listed as the source. She told us that the copy editor had never told her that there had been any change to the article whatsoever. I sent an email to the Publisher of the Palm Beach Post telling him what happened. I asked him to investigate and take the necessary action to fix the problem he has with his staff. I told him that whoever made the change was either grossly uniformed as to who Malcolm X was or had made the change maliciously. In other words the act was either grossly incompetent or malicious. I had two reasons to send him the mail. One was to inform him so that he could fix the problem and the second was to elicit a sincere apology.
I received no apology and the emails I did receive from Tim Burke, the publisher and Nick Moschella, the senior editor were platitudinous. Tim Burke told me that he stood by the only email I got from Nick Moschella and felt it was sufficient.
Thanks for following-up. I have talked to all parties involved. Of course, the editing change was well-intentioned – we do encourage our copy editors to question and challenge our reporters but there was a breakdown in this process.
Glad you enjoyed the quite interesting story.
I guess Tim Burke thinks that just like in the old days he’s an 800 pound newspaper mogul who apologizes to no one. This attitude is not just plain thoughtless and rude, it’s bad business. I was responsible for saving the Palm Beach Post a lot of money. Had that article showing Malcolm X as the source of the quote run in Monday’s newspaper, I would have had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Cox Enterprises/Palm Beach Post. My damages would have been huge and so would have been the cost to the Palm Beach Post. Tim Burke dodged a bullet thanks to my catching his huge mistake before it was too late. “Tim, it’s still not too late. How about telling me you’re sorry?