Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Chris Brogan is more responsive than the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about me and my mom, Using YouTube for Posterity. They misrepresented the facts. They made stuff up in their account of my mother and my relationship to fit in with the theme of the story.

This is the part of the article about us, which isn't freely available online at the WSJ:
"While some are looking to trace back through decades of history or document big events, others are recording more mundane moments. To help preserve her memory, 81-year-old Millie Garfield of Swampscott, Mass., decided to feature herself in a series of videos documenting one of her... son Steve's pet peeves - namely, her persistent requests for his help opening coffee cans, rethreading dental floss or opening other tightly sealed bottles. Steve, a video producer in Boston, has helped her film and post the series, called "I Can't Open This," on a blog, Mymoms, and on YouTube. Millie's friends - and random users who find the clips through searches - have posted comments like "Those pesky plastic containers, they are a pain.""
Let's take a look at what was printed and the actual facts:

"To help preserve her memory, 81-year-old Millie Garfield of Swampscott, Mass., decided to feature herself in a series of videos"


My mom didn't decide to do these videos to preserve her memory. I
decided to do them to capture fleeting moments. My mom usually says
writing a blog helps keep her mind healthy.

"documenting one of her... son Steve's pet peeves"


Helping my mom open stuff is a pleasure and in no way a pet
peeve.. I never said that.

"namely, her persistent requests"


This makes my mom sound like she is always complaining and
asking for help.


She saves up items for whenever I visit.

"Steve, a video producer in Boston, has helped her film and post the series, called "I Can't Open This," on a blog,, and on YouTube."


The title of the videoblog series is "I Can't Open It"

When I was first misrepresented by the Wall Street Journal, I called the reporter. She left a message with me explaining why she wrote the story the way she did.

"I am deeply sorry that the final wording didn't come out as you liked. Pet peeve was not meant to be negative and it wasn't in quotes. Your mom and I did have a very thoughtful discussion about what the series means to her in terms of preserving her memory. She brought up and you once gave her a book to encourage her to write her memoirs and that she never got to that and appreciated this as an alternative. I read her back the section Monday afternoon."

Photo by JD Lasica

This isn't right. So if it isn't in quotes, reporters can make stuff up? Neither my mother nor myself ever said the words 'pet peeve'. It's not in our vocabulary. It mis-characterizes our relationship. The reporter didn't get it. She didn't get us. It's wrong and should be changed.

Just because my mother agrees, after the fact, that the videos will be like her memoirs, that doesn't change the FACT that these videos were not started for that reason and that I decided to record them and not her.

If the Wall Street Journal can't even get the facts right in a human interest story, what are they doing on the real news?

I stopped trying to get it corrected thinking that the article didn't need any more visibility by my posting it to my blog. It's behind a paid firewall anyway so not many people will ever see it.

Or so I thought.

Then this turned up in my Google reader:

Seniors go online to save legacy
Myrtle Beach Sun News - Myrtle Beach,SC,USA
"We have fun with it and it captures our relationship," says Steve Garfield, who also has his own video blog. "I am very proud of her."
The erroneous article was now out in public.

Syndicated in all it's dis-informational glory for all to see.

And it was spreading.

You see, even the title of the article is incorrect. That's my point. We didn't go online to save a legacy. We went on line for fun. That's the lede of the story and our truth was changed to match the storyline. It's not right.

And how can I correct the story on the Myrtle Beach Sun News site. Let's look at my options:

Email, print, reprint or license, AIM, or Digg it

Nothing there allows me to comment. No way to email the author or contact the paper for a correction.

I wrote to them:
You reprinted a story from the Wall Street Journal that has factual errors in it.

I have not been able to get the Wall Street Journal to agree to corrrect the errors in the story and now they are syndicating the story and you have posted it to the web.

Seniors go online to save legacy

Is there any way for you to correct your online version of this story?
I'm waiting to hear back.

Chris Brogan is more responsive than the Wall Street Journal.

He recently wrote, An Autobiography of Sorts. I saw something that he left out, I emailed him, and he added it.

And unlike the Wall Street Journal, he allows comments too! Plus, his blog posts are not behind a pay-per-view firewall.

The most recent email from the writer of the article on me and my mom:

"The article can't be changed at this point. Would you still like to
have my editor follow up?"

Ummm, yes.

I'm still waiting for an editor to contact me.


  1. Anonymous7:17 AM

    Anyone who's met the two of you and reads both your blogs KNOWS that that is not the way it is! You're right not to let go, Steve

  2. Anonymous10:08 AM

    Steve, this issue of misreporting and more importantly the inability in a static media to correct mistakes can even affect national issues.

    Several years ago the Canadian Press published a story about Maher Arar. In it the CP article they quoted Mr. Arar as saying his torture involved "[hanging] him upside-down, [giving] him electric shocks". In fact, Mr Arar had repeatedly stated he was only threated with such type of torture . This correction no less diminishes his treatment but very importantly should reinforce what he has repeated said.

    I came across this misrepresentation not in the original article but in a soon-to-be published research paper. This misinformation was a key argument in that paper. Now that research paper was referencing a law journal which in turn quoted the Toronto Star which published the original CP article. I contacted the research paper author and the law journal main author. The main author for the law journal article responded that they rechecked that quote and agreed it was incorrect. They in turn corrected a web copy of their article. The research paper author was sympathetic but surprised the law journal republished the web version. As far as I know the research paper still has the misinformation in it. And only after contacting the Toronto Star did I realize that the article was from the Canadian Press. The Canadian Press did not respond to my email about the accuracy of their article.

    My concern here is that someone reading a third or fourth or Nth hand account of the original article will neither take the time to check the original sources nor will the original sources be available. (The web version of Toronoto Star article is now under the pay-for-view section).

    Sorry for this long rant but these incidents shows the potential for the new media and again the issue of the inability in a static media to correct mistakes.

  3. Ed M,

    The newspaper reporters act as if once it's printed, it's etched in stone.

    Makes no sense to me.

    I can not understand why they are unable or unwilling to correct the story.

    Nevermind my story or the facts of it.

    The response that the article can not be changed troubles me.


  4. I was just talking to my mom about this post and she says this part is wrong too, where the reporter says, "I read her back the section Monday afternoon."

    My mom says the reporter called to confirm facts and never read her the section quoted above.

    Think about it.

    When has a reporter ever read the interviewee portions of a story about them prior to printing in a newspaper?

    I've only had that happen once or twice to check for factual errors, but in one of those cases the story was almost completely rewritten from the version I reviewed.