Friday, August 22, 2008

Playing "Gotcha! journalism"

One of the most important rules in the game of "Gotcha! journalism" is to get your facts straight and all your ducks in a row before making accusations.

Today, Broward New Times' Bob Norman, the paper's Sun-Sentinel Criticizer-in-Chief, posted a brief item on his blog about the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo breaking a story that was picked up by the AP and subsequently published on the Sun-Sentinel's website.

Norman linked to a post on the Herald's political blog where Caputo quibbles over the fact that the Sentinel posted the AP story on their website but deleted any mention of the Herald running the story first.

This is the line on the Sun Sentinel's website that rankled Caputo: "The threat was first reported by a South Florida newspaper on Thursday."

I'm sure both Caputo and Norman are adequate journalists but I've got them both beat when it comes to remembering stuff. The reason for that is because I'm old!

Caputo joined the Herald a short five years ago. I've been living in Miami and reading the Herald since 1960. Yes, I'm pulling rank!

Kudos to Caputo for breaking the story but on the journalism Richter scale it hardly measured a ripple. Caputo's "scoop" was a mere 235 words. Certainly no one's going to compare it with Woodstein's Watergate reporting.

But the story was his baby and he had every right to beat up on the Sun-Sentinel for "borrowing" it.

However had Caputo done a little research he would have discovered that when it comes to "borrowing" stories and running them without attribution, the Herald has more skeletons in their closets than a big city medical examiner.

As soon as I saw Caputo's blog post I immediately recalled this classic Jim Mullin piece from the June 12, 1997 issue of Miami New Times.

In it Mullin documents how the Herald systematically "borrowed" stories from the Daily Business Review about a Port of Miami scandal. The DBR had been running stories on irregularities at the port for some eight months when the Herald started "borrowing" their stories without attribution.

DBR editor Ed Wasserman (who is now a Herald op-ed columnist) was so pissed that he spent thousands of dollars on a billboard that was erected at "Biscayne Boulevard at Thirteenth Street, [and] angled so that it point[ed] directly at the Miami Herald's headquarters across the street."

The billboard displayed images of the DBR's front pages with the dates they appeared and the Herald's pages with dates they appeared which were after the DBR's run dates.

The billboard also carried this legend: "Don't wait for the Herald to catch up."

The point here is that Caputo is taking the Sun-Sentinel to task for something the Herald has routinely practiced over the years. Remember; I've got an excellent memory! ;)

So Marc, if you're thinking about erecting a billboard across from the Sun-Sentinel, my advice would be: DON'T!

Some more advice: Next time you you challenge someone to a game of "Gotcha!" you might want to do a little more research!

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, but the Sentinel NEVER credits the Herald, yet I've seen the Herald cite the Sentinel on several stories.

    Always fun to see when there are journalism awards; Herald usually reports 'em straight, Sentinel buries the Herald's wins.

    btw, the front page of today's Sentinel had ONE story and it was from the wires. The rest was graphics and an ad — FRONT PAGE. SUNDAY!!


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