By Robert Haugh
I’ve been working in journalism for 17 years. As many of you know, I worked for the Santa Clara Weekly from 2005 to 2015. When I started in journalism, there was no Twitter or Facebook. Social media was no big deal.
Today, social media is a big deal. And journalism is different. I was reminded of that yesterday when I read SanJoseInside.com’s take on a story that we’ve written extensively about.
The story is about Mayor Lisa Gillmor being accused of violating the City’s charter by Vice Mayor Dominic Caserta and Councilwoman Patty Mahan — both strong 49ers supporters . They said that Gillmor should not have used the services of a PR firm, Banner Public Affairs, who the city hired to help communicate to the public about issues generated by the stadium and 49ers.
But here’s the short version of the story: the accusations were dead wrong. The city staff who are responsible for enforcing the charter said there was no violation. That was clear after an hour-long debate and grilling of city staff at the council meeting on November 21, 2017. Even Mahan voted to pay the Banner contract which passed 5-1. Caserta was the lone no vote.
I like Giwargis and I know she’s done some good reporting in the past. But this was a really inaccurate story — or stories. I wish Giwargis had taken one of fundamental practices from journalism training and followed this one basic news reporting rule: “Write so facts shape the story. Don’t write facts to fit the story.“ The Mercury News still has not reported that the accusations were wrong. They haven’t even told their readers what the council decided last week. That’s pretty bad especially since it was a front-page story.
Full disclosure: Metro’s Jenn Wadsworth, one the best reporters covering local government, contacted me to get my perspective, but did not write “The Fly” that the Merc article is mentioned in.
“The Fly” got the facts right. But interestingly, the story focused a lot on Gillmor blocking Giwargis on Twitter. First, Giwargis complained about it.
— Ramona Giwargis (@RamonaGiwargis) November 22, 2017
Then, Gillmor changed her mind less than 24 hours later.
@RamonaGiwargis No grudge. I blocked b/c I was personally disappointed that you misuse/ignore my written quotes in your stories that are factually wrong. My mistake. So I just unblocked. Happy to discuss specifics privately.
— Lisa Gillmor (@LisaGillmor) November 22, 2017
I weighed in too.
Agreed. Not a good move by @LisaGillmor . But I see this morning that she tweeted she unblocked @RamonaGiwargis . That's good decision. BTW, I've been blocked by @Caserta4Supe because my coverage has been critical (but accurate). I don't take it personally.
— Robert Haugh (@RobertHaugh) November 22, 2017
I have to admit that I don’t tweet much and I’m not sure how useful it is for journalism. But apparently Mercury News managing editor Bert Robinson thinks it’s a big deal. “The signal that it sends is that the journalist has gotten under the politician’s skin and the politician is being childish,” Robinson said childishly attacking Gillmor for childishly blocking Giwargis.
On a more serious issue, Robinson did stand by the Giwargis story — or stories. He said the major changes were just “clarifications.” Huh? Changing what the City Attorney said three times to make it look like the Mayor violated the charter when she didn’t are “clarifications?”
I would have thought that Robinson would have been more concerned about why a front-page story in his paper was wrong and still hasn’t been accurately reported. I would have thought accuracy in journalism was more important than Twitter these days.
Maybe things have changed. Maybe I’m wrong and need to worry less about writing stories with accurate facts and worry more about my tweets and followers and who’s blocking me.
Editor’s Note: Please follow me on Twitter: @RobertHaugh