Monday, February 13, 2012

Never Having to Say You’re Sorry If You Are the Palm Beach Post

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.

Mr. Stewart:
  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.
  Nick Moschella

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?


  1. Earl, you might have lost that lawsuit! Jim Moran was quoting Malcolm X.

  2. Thanks, Art.

    I know that Malcolm X made that statement. Jim Moran was older than Malcolm X by 7 years. Who's to say that Jim Moran didn't say it first or just happened to say the same thing. One can argue that Jim Moran stole the quote from Malcolm X or vice versa. If you Google the quote, Malcolm X is cited many more times than Jim Moran, but that's just because he was more famous (actually infamous).

    With all that said, it really doesn't matter who said it. What matters is that my service manager BELIEVED it was Jim Moran and so did the reporter who wrote the story. The whole message of the story was to tell the readers who my service manager's mentor was who influenced her most in her life. For the PB Post editor to "correct" the quote source without informing the reporter or the interviewee was grossly irresponsible and either malicious or stupid...take your pick.

    I would have won that lawsuit hands down.

  3. There are times when I have read one of your articles Earl and I think to myself that it's the salesman in you that helped with that article.

    It is far and away more prevalent that I find myself enlightened by your honest straight forward view that you put into words here. Words unfiltered, unaltered and untainted by a third party such as an agenda driven newspaper.

    Ya know.......I wonder. I wonder if Tim Burke and Nick Moschella would have the guts to publish true information on the inner workings of their newspaper industry as you have about the automobile industry. I wonder if they could honestly say how a newspaper is run nowadays.

    By their actions and e-mail it is quite evident that they can no more apologize to you for their copy editor's complete and unbelievably insensitive quote credit change than they could write a factual based story on Malcolm-X's teachings of contempt and hatred for other humans based on the color of their skin.

    It is when a principled person pursues positive principles based in honesty ,integrity and freedom for all that I admire this quote.

    "I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death." Thomas Paine

  4. It's good to hear from you again, Fred. It's been a while. I always enjoy your comments.

    Here's an interesting "PS" to who said “the future belong to those who prepare for it"...It was actually Ralph Waldo Emerson who, of course, predated both Malcolm X and Jim Moran. I didn't dig back further, but there may have even been someone before Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    This compounds the egregiousness of the PB Post's error and Tim Burke's arrogance in refusing to apologize. Not only did the copy editor recklessly change the quote source without informing the reporter or the interviewee, but he was dead wrong about Malcolm X being the source.


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