OUR APOLOGIES: A HARD WAY TO RELEARN JOURNALISM’S FIRST LESSONBy Dave Wielenga
Next Friday’s community meeting at iconic Berth 55—where the Port of Long Beach is forcing out four long-standing businesses to build a fire station—is still on. It’s set for Aug. 30 at 6 p.m., exactly as GreaterLongBeach.com reported Wednesday.
However, nearly every other aspect of that report was incorrect—in some aspects, profoundly so—and represented a nearly complete breakdown of pretty basic journalism. I am so very sorry.
Of course, such obvious errors require an apology. As publisher of GreaterLongBeach.com, the responsibility—for the inaccuracies in Wednesday’s story, for apologizing—is mine, no question. As someone who just marked 40 years as
a professional journalist in the Greater Long Beach area (and who spews quite hifalutinly about ethics) the personal embarrassment is just as evident.
But here, there is a question: How? And that question is the answer.
See, GreaterLongBeach.com asked no questions—well, few besides when, where and what time—about the Aug. 30 community meeting at Berth 55. Bad start. Instead, we relied on our original information without double- or triple-checking, and when lots of it turned out to be wrong, we were headed from bad to worse. When we then used the unsubstantiated information as the thrust of the story, things reached ugly. By the time we pushed the PUBLISH button the story was practically a work of fiction—and not even the based-on-a-true-story kind. Our version completely misunderstood the meaning of the event. Could it get any worse? Yep. We used our misunderstanding of the meaning of the event as the underlying theme of the story.
We reported that the Port of Long Beach called the community together to discuss the dim futures facing the businesses on Berth 55—and see, that’s not true. We went on to point out the weirdness of that, since the Port of Long Beach has already decided Berth 55’s future—and see, even when the inconsistency of that begged us to ask a question, we didn’t.
Fact is, a consortium of community groups, businesses and residents have formed a loose coalition in support of Berth 55, hoping the strength of public opinion—and what they say are some logical alternatives—will persuade Port of Long Beach officials to change their minds. The Aug. 30 forum at Berth 55 is intended to be a show of support, a clearinghouse of information, a strategy session—and an opportunity to eat big plates of fried fish and potatoes and take boat tours of the Port of Long Beach.
Yeah, that is a different story.
So where does GreaterLongBeach.com go after its this public display of a day that took not doing
our jobs to a stunningly inexcusable and inexplicable extreme?
Forward. This baffling lapse in our first-day-of-journalism-school skills is humiliating, but also completely correctable as quickly as the next story. It begins by asking one question—then another … then another … then
another—and publishing then answers … like we did just now.