Tampa Bay Times explanation for bogus story doesn't pass the smell test

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In response to withering criticism of an erroneous story it published about an equity firm purchasing $1 billion in regional real estate, the Tampa Bay Times‘ Neil Brown e-mailed the Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride to explain:

“Several editors in the process scrubbed the story well and asked lots of questions. But the authority by which the local rep spoke created a blind spot,” wrote Brown. “An unacceptable blind spot. We failed to contact the company directly and that was a serious mistake and not up to our standards.”

I’m sorry, but that explanation doesn’t pass the smell test.

First of all, where is the apology? Yes, an apology.

This was not just a story about some politician saying one thing, but actually doing another. This was the “Most Shared” story on TampaBay.com, undoubtedly because of the hope it inspired. One billion dollars to shore up Tampa Bay’s shaky real estate market would be the kind of financial infusion that could transform the community — and just at the moment, as the nation’s economy begins to shake off the economic doldrums, when the region could use it most.

Botching that kind of story deserves more than an e-mail to the Poynter Institute or a follow-up story tucked away in the local section. Paul Tash or Neil Brown or someone at the Times owes the readership more than just an explanation. It owes it an apology.

As for the explanation, I still fail to see how this story made its way to A1 without the newspaper getting some sort of confirmation from the profiled company. There was a failure at the micro level that needs to be further examined.

Brown said that several editors scrubbed the story. Yet none of them raised a flag? How does that conversation go?

Editor: “Have you confirmed this blockbuster story with, you know, the company?”

Reporter: “No, but I’ve got a good quote from a local real estate agent.”

Editor: “Well real estate agents never exaggerate, let’s run the story!”

C’mon.  That’s just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.