Thursday, April 1, 2010

Does Jennifer Lin Regret The Error?

UPDATE #2: The paper ran this correction today, but the online version remains incorrect and the correction is not even appended to it.


This is Jennifer Lin, reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, with Steve Wynn. We'll get back to them in a second. But first, a little story.

Years ago, I taught one semester of journalism at UNLV. For the final, I took my students to meet wine expert Andrew Bradbury at Mandalay Bay and had my students, few of whom were legitimately literate, interview him. He was the owner of a cool wine shop called 55 Degrees and wine director at the Charlie Palmer restaurant Aureole. I gave my students a cheat sheet of information and warned them that anyone who misspelled Aureole would automatically flunk.

None of them did, but I got seven different spellings for "Andrew Bradbury." I gave up teaching.

I tell this tale because today I learned that it's not just nearly illiterate Nevada college students who are careless even when information is handed to them on a silver platter. A piece today by Lin in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Steve Wynn's plans for Philadelphia includes this passage:

During an interview last week, Steve Wynn, the company's chairman, showed sketches of his vision for the Philadelphia casino to a Las Vegas blogger, Steve Freiss. Freiss took a photograph of one of the drawings and posted it on his Web site, www.WhatHappensHere.com.

Freiss wrote that Wynn "watched me shoot the photo," but later told him to remove the image from his blog because of a "gross misunderstanding."

See a few errors in there?

I am utterly astonished. No, really. I didn't think you could get to be a staffer for a paper with that sort of fine reputation and make such a show of being so sloppy. I get that sometimes my name gets misspelled; it's even happened to my in bylines in The New York Times. But she didn't just screw that up, she invented a whole new website. I mean, you're here at this site. So was she. Look up. It's right there in big letters. With my name. She couldn't have emailed me in the first place, in fact, if she had misspelled it.

What's also interesting is that Lin chased me for two days to get a contextual remark about what happened with that casino photo. As I am also a working journalist endeavoring to gather information for my own stories, I was a little hard to reach, and ultimately early yesterday afternoon I provided her with this e-mailed statement:

Mr. Wynn laid out several renderings for me to see and pointed out certain design features but specified the one I ended up shooting as the most accurate. He stood by me as I shot the image with my iPhone. The image was posted for five days before his office raised concerns and Mr. Wynn himself then called me to ask me to take it down. We did not speak -- I missed his call as I was on an assignment -- but his assistant said he was apologetic and that there had been a 'gross misunderstanding.' I acceded to his request because I recognized the possibility that Mr. Wynn, who suffers from a degenerative eye disease, did not realize I was using the phone to take a photo. Either way, though, he showed me the rendering, knew we were on the record and never suggested I could not describe what I was seeing or that there was a timetable that was sensitive.

All she ended up doing was quoting what I wrote in an update to the original Philadelphia post on this blog. Now, I'm no nationally published journalist -- oh, wait, I am! -- but I usually prefer to use actual comments I obtain from the actual source if that's at all possible. It makes me seem, oh I dunno, like I've done some new reporting. Which she did!

There is another way to do this. Don't take my word for it, though. Read all about it. Journalist Kellie Patrick Gates, with whom I worked a decade ago at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, talked to me on Monday and wrote a piece for PlanPhilly.Com on essentially the same thing. Here's my part of that one:

Friess said in a phone interview Monday evening that Wynn brought a group of renderings to lunch. "When I asked if I could keep them, he said no," Friess said. "But he pulled out one of them, and he stood by while I took a photograph of it. It was my understanding that image was for my use as a journalist. Mr. Wynn now says it was a misunderstanding."

Monday evening, Friess removed the image at Wynn's request and updated his post with an explanation of why he did so.

The image shows a white building with many columns. A large glass bubble on the top suggests an atrium. "During our interview, he laid out photographs of the podium of the Encore property in Macau next to renderings of the Philadelphia property and made note of very specific design similarities between the two," Friess said. Wynn told the gaming control board in early March that he planned to draw on his new Macau property for the Foxwoods design.


This whole thing is a pain in my ass and I really didn't want to discuss it very much. Evidently, even showing me the renderings caused Wynn a great deal of headache with the Pennsylvania gaming authorities. Had he instructed me that there was an embargo on the material, I would have agreed to adhere to it.

It may seem strange journalistically that I'd allow myself to be bullied by Wynn, but I acceded to Wynn's request to remove the image for a number of reasons. First, I felt that it was vaguely possible he didn't realize that my iPhone was a camera. Second, Philadelphia is a big story back East but Steve Wynn is a far more important source to me on many other topics. Third, it had been up long enough for my core readership to see it and for many others to copy it for their own sites. And fourth, to refuse to do so could've invited litigation and God knows I can't afford that over something this insignificant to me.

I have answered journalists' questions on this and explained my decision on this site because I believe in transparency and because I would want other journalists to respond to me if I had such reasonable questions.

Look, I'm far from perfect. I make careless errors in stories, too. Everyone does. Usually, though, I get names right because that's just so fundamental. And the thing about Lin is that the entirety of the messy passage suggests a broader problem. These actually were difficult errors to make.

What's more, Lin is front and center of a YouTube video called "Steve Wynn Reveals Shocking Ignorance" -- she called it "infamous" despite the fact that my nephew's Dum Dum The Lollipop video has about as many views -- in which she catches Steve Wynn seemingly not in command of the historic facts surrounding the region of Philadelphia he is developing. Watch:



The fact is, the drama of the Philly casino is really an internecine dispute between the state, which decided that's a good place for one, and the city, which feels its authority has been usurped. That's a good one and it may become Wynn's problem, but it's not Wynn's fault. If he's a little fuzzy over the development history there, so what? He knows he's in the process of getting a license. I suspect he would happily have had the thing somewhere other than along a row with a Wal-Mart and an IKEA. But he decided to go for this opportunity; it's not like he ever lobbied anyone to put it there.

I digress, but only because I just find the Philly media's overall efforts quite weird and misfocused. And now I know that the lead print reporter covering this for the largest paper in the market isn't terribly interested in being accurate about little things.

I shot Lin an email a little while ago. The subject line was "disturbing" and the contents of it were: "You not only misspelled my last name but fabricated my website. It's VegasHappensHere.Com. What the hell?"

Let's see how/if she responds.

UPDATE: Lin left a voice message acknowledging the name misspelling but baffling over the website mistake. She seemed unaware that she wrote "WhatHappensHere.Com" instead of "VegasHappensHere.Com," repeatedly saying she didn't understand what she'd done incorrectly on that front. Congrats, LVCVA, your slogan has actually brainwashed Americans into subliminally replacing the word "Vegas" for "What." Lin also indicated she'd run a correction tomorrow on my name. Apparently fixing it on the Web immediately didn't occur to her. That's the first and fastest thing I do to make amends when I screw up. Oh well.

8 comments:

Jeff in OKC said...

I have a real suspicion that she didn't want you or the site easy to find, so she intentionally misspelled both. The whole article seems like another attack on the project and the last paragraph especially seems like a blatant attempt to find any comment and make it negative.
Call her for a phone interview for the podcast (You know, the strappodcast) and maybe we can listen to her lecture you for 20 minutes, just like she did to Mr. Wynn for five.

Hiker said...

What an arrogant little shit she is!

Anonymous said...

Never attribute to conspiracy what can more easily be attributed to incompetence.

Steve, I fail to see why you think that just because some one works for a major outlet that they are competent. Should be? Yes. But there's little evidence to support it. Dan Rather put forged documents on air and there countless other examples as well.

That's why the MSM is dying.

SG

THE STRIP PODCAST said...

SG ...

Come on now. I really hate it when people say "That's why the MSM is dying." Reporters have always made mistakes and PRINT reporters in particular have always been far better at taking responsibility for it and correcting the record than people in TV, radio or online.

The MSM is dying because:

* There are newer, cheaper, more immediate news delivery systems

* The public's attention spans and literacy levels have shrunk to levels where lengthy, nuanced work that requires time and intellectual fire power to absorb is not appealing or commercially viable.

* We live in a time so politically polarized and during which faith has been shaken across the board in pretty much every institution -- media, government, even church.

I'm sure you'll throw in bias as an issue, too, but you'll notice that you seem to trust my journalism and ability to be fair when appropriate even though you know some of my biases. I contend that perceived bias is far more real than actual bias in journalism but that either way it doesn't exist in any greater or lesser quantity than ever. I mean, Agnew called us nattering nabobs of negativism 40 years ago and the media thrived just fine until 24-hour cable news and the Internet.

Now, does anyone need a cat?

Dave Lifton said...

Steve,

I don't understand why you, as a Mets fan, should expect intelligence or competence from someone from Philadelphia.

detroit1051 said...

Well, it's tomorrow, and I don't see a correction by Lin. However, a reader comment called her out:

"jbh11 Sloppy article. The Vegas blog is at VegasHappensHere.com, written by Steve Friess (properly spelled). You may recall your own paper ran an op-ed by him within the past month. Whether or not you think casinos are the right thing for the city, landing Steve Wynn is the most positive potential outcome that can come from this decision. Everything he's built, from his Golden Nugget days in AC, to his namesake properties in Vegas have been class acts and elevated the quality of everything else around him."

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/89667227.html

Anonymous said...

I live in Philly. Glad to hear that Wynn is folding up and leaving town. Dealing with the powers that be in this 3rd world city would not be worth it to him. It is Philadelphia's loss...great website btw.

Anonymous said...

I hope that this incident doesn't harm your relationship with Wynn. Your interviews with him are some of my favorite pieces of journalism, and I always gain more respect for him after listening to them.