Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Conversation with the Editor of the Plain Dealer

Ok, so it's no secret that I hate the Plain Dealer. I think they are a cynical, bitter and uninformed newspaper who treats their readers like unintelligent and naive drones. The writers are so bad that it is at times insulting and the entire mood of the paper (yes, this includes Terry Pluto) is a complete air of elitism, despite not having a single satisfied reader. So, a few weeks ago, I e-mailed the sports editor re: the errors that I constantly find in the paper, and maybe get a response. I wrote this the day after the Browns v Seahawks game when Tony Grossi wrote that it was the first Browns OT game in like three years. Here is my letter:

Dear Mr. Hewitt,

I have never done this, and I would never do this if this wasn't becoming such a chronic problem. Real quick, let me tell you where I am coming from. I am a lifetime Cleveland Sports fan who last year moved to Southern California to go to graduate school. In fact, I am
writing you in between theory and method papers, but I was so eager to write to you, that I couldn't begin my next paper without expressing my disappointment and concern about the state of your sports dept.
Let the record show, that unfortunately, I consider the Plain Dealer my last source of sports journalism. I tend to read blogs and national stories before I end up at the Plain Dealer. This is based on the fact that I find most of your "journalists" to be bland and
cynical and rarely offering any information that I haven't gathered by myself by watching a particular event, and when they do offer opinions, it just so happens that I almost universally disagree with all of them. But this e-mail is not about opinions, it is about facts. But it should be noted, that while I will be writing to you about three separate incidents, my low rate of even viewing these articles leads me to believe that there are many more instances that I
am missing. but in the last 6 months, in about the thirty Plain Dealer articles I've read, I've notices three factual errors. And for me to notice an error, I need to recognize it immediately as an error and without the luxury of a fact checker or editor, call shenanigans. While none of the errors were particularly harmful to the experience, they completely destroy the article's and author's integrity and paint a picture of a lazy and uninterested staff that I find offensive as a reader.
I will list the three errors I found and you be the judge (keep in mind, I do not search for errors, I merely recognize them while reading)

1. May 16th - Cavs Playoffs agains the Nets - Mary Schmidt Boyer
"He [Jason Kidd] did, however, have a career-playoff-high 17 rebounds, including 14 defensive. His assist total would have been higher if his teammates had managed to shoot better than a measly 36 percent." In an article lauding Kidd as a great floor general (which he was) she
incorrectly cited that the reason he didn't have more assists was because of his "teammates" low shooting percentage. Unfortunately the % she gave was the Nets team shooting %, including Jason Kidd's which just so happened to be 2-13 for the night. So when you remove that number, and actually give his teammate's shooting percentage (which is what she claims she is giving), the Nets actually shot a very respectable 40.3% from the field. This is a small statistical error that does two things. One it completely invalidates her argument that Kidd isn't getting the credit he deserves because his teammates are missing shots when in reality it
is Kidd himself who is dragging the shooting % down. And it points out her inability to interpret a box score, a playoff box score mind you, while writing an article about statistics. This "minor error" leaves the article and the author with no integrity, and completely
invalidates any statistical research she gave for the remainder of the playoffs.

2. October 10th - The day before the start of the Indians Red Sox
series - Paul Hoynes
I'm not sure how to pull up the article, but in his series preview, Hoynes recalls the back to back 1-0 games at Jacob's field in late July. He remarks how Sabathia bested Dice-K 1-0, and the next day Fausto beat Beckett 1-0. He then goes on to talk about how the Indians have the advantage in the pitchers duels. One problem: Dice-K beat CC 1-0. This was teh grossest error in that Hoynes went on for a few sentences discussing the importance of these two victories and what they mean for the upcoming series. What was weird about this, is that this game occurred a mere 10 weeks earlier, and most of the people I talked to remembered every detail of the game, let alone the result. Here is an Indians beat reporter, who is paid to merely watch baseball games and tell us what he saw, and he can't remember the most memorable back to back games of the season. I remember where I was, as do most of my acquaintances, and I live in LA. What was this guy talking about, and furthermore, how did this get published?!? In fact, Hoynes mentioned that it was in fact Sabathia and Betancourt who finished off the Red Sox 1-0, this requires looking at a box score right? I mean, he can remember the reliever, but not who won the game? And then to be so sure of your memory (which is patently wrong) to not only print the fact without so much as googling "Sabathia Matsuzaka 1-0" but to go on and write a
paragraph about this fantasy game? This was where I started to become concerned.

and then Yesterday

3. November 5 - Coverage of Browns Seahawks - Tony Grossi
"He moved the Seahawks 67 yards to set up Josh Brown's 22-yard field goal as time expired and caused the Browns' first overtime game since 2004."
Really? Really Tony? This one absolutely blew my mind. Not just because the Fox crew mentioned the 2006 game against the Chiefs several times during Sunday's telecast, but as soon as I saw this I immediately called four friends, 2 die hards, and 2 casual fans, none of which get paychecks to do nothing but follow the team and said "when was the last Browns overtime game?" All 4 (ALL 4) responded quickly with "Last year against the Cheifs". I called my father who thinks that Turkey Jones was to blame for the bad pass rush Sunday, and HE KNEW. This game was LAST YEAR. It was the most memorable game of the year. It was Derek Anderson's debut! It is the only game I actually remember well! Is he serious? So I took it upon myself to google "Cleveland Browns Overtime 2006" - do it and look at the third
one down. Not exactly deep academic research. How does this happen? How do you let this happen? We don't need fact checkers, we need competence!

And THAT is the fundamental problem. None of these facts are fact checker facts. Writing a story in which you tell of an instance when a particular player was involved in a college game needs a fact checker. Referencing the 64 championship game might need a few facts checked. But the ability to read a box score, the ability to remember a game that occurred 10 weeks earlier, and remembering the most memorable game of the season before - are not fact checker
responsibilities. We're talking about utter and obvious incompetence. These people are your "beat reporters" but when they write this stuff, not only does it destroy the integrity of your paper, but it makes me weary of EVERYTHING i read on your pages. I won't be able to recognize every error, so when Bill Livingston writes his annual "Eric Wedge doesn't know what he's doing" column and supports it with his reasons, I have EVERY reason to believe that his supports are at least not checked, and likely downright wrong. I know it is a shame what
has happened to the newspaper industry in the era of the blog, and I know how hard it can be to try to compete. But when I read swerbsblurbs, or mistake by the lake (which I always do BEFORE I get to the PD) I don't find these gross error, because I know that these people care about their integrity, but more so, I know they are fans. You can ask the bloggers who won the CC - DiceK game, and they won't need to google it, they're remember. My friends remembered the Browns Chiefs game, shouldn't a paid fan like Grossi. And I'll bet you that the bloggers can read a box score and pick out what is important, not what is wrong and irrelevant. Like I said earlier, I only read the PD when something big happens (Cavs Playoffs, ALCS, Browns over Seahawks) so I'm sure these error occur often and go unnoticed. But this is why your paper is now the 5th fiddle in a city when it used to be king. Maybe instead of hiring Terry Pluto for big bucks, you should put out an ad on craigslist (cuz god knows no one reads the classifieds in the PD anymore):

Fact Checker needed
No qualifications other than being a Cleveland Sports Fan
You follow sports so we don't have to.

You might save a few readers,

Thank You
Matt Glassman
So 2 hours later, I get an email response

Mr. Glassman,
Thank you for writing and pointing out some mistakes. Unfortunately, some articles do include mistakes, particularly when they are written on deadline. We try to always be accurate, but sometimes we miss something. I apologize for that.
We also try to correct any mistakes we make, printing a correction on Page 2 of the A section. This is usually done the next day.
Again, thank you for writing.
Roy Hewitt
Sports Editor
It's almost as if he didn't read anything I wrote to him. He doesn't get that I'm not concerned with dumb errors, or silly mistakes, but my concern is complete disinterest by his staff. It is offensive. What's more offensive is that the sports editor doesn't seem to care. So I wrote this right back to him. Not my potliteness despite my anger.

I think, Mr. Hewitt, you have missed my point. I did not write to you to point out the errors in your department. Nor did I write to you under the impression that articles don't include mistakes, whether they are written on deadline or not. I think I spent a good deal of time on that fact, and I am a little upset you could not gather that from the length I went to and time I spent writing to you. If it was incorrect data or irrelevant factual errors that were really bothering me, I doubt would have contacted the editor of a major newspaper and pointed out the minor flaws in his staff's reports. I, like I mentioned earlier, was pointing out the obvious and often ridiculous statements that your paper is making that are patently WRONG. I am arguing that there is a different between an error and a false statement. The examples I brought up earlier are not errors which slipped through and can be blamed on the pressures of a deadline or chalked up to the God's of "shit happens". No, it is the fact that a casual fan can recognize these errors without research, and that the articles are being written with the support of not true information that is the problem here. These facts cannot be blamed on deadlines or inevitability, but on either incompetence, laziness or downright stupidity. I hate to use words like these, and I'm sure their harshness is weakening my argument by absurdity, but if you do take a step back and realize that Tony Grossi, your Browns Beat Reporter, the
guy who you give a daily podcast to, with the idea that he watches Browns games, doesn't remember a game that occurred less than a year ago, and doesn't have the time nor consciousness to merely go to google and find out when the last overtime game was - can not be defended on the deadline crutch. Nor can your Cavaliers beat reporters inability to read something as simple as a box score, or your Indians Beat reporter to remember the result (not the details, but the result) of one of the most critical games of the year, one that occurred 10 weeks earlier, and one in which he was basing an entire column upon, falsely. I'm sorry Mr. Hewitt, but maybe your definition of journalistic integrity differs from mine, but as a fan,
as someone who watches the games for my own personal pleasure, and merely reads the articles the following day as an artifact to reify that experience - I am offended and put off when your paper does not have the same interest as myself.

I apologize for the harshness of my critique and I pray I have not
offended you as to not deserve a response.

Thank you for your time
Matt Glassman
I never got a response.

I hate the plain dealer

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