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When comments go bad

I'm so angry at the StarTribune.com comment process, I could spit.

That's what I get for bothering to engage on their site.

It was Paul Walsh's story about the Farmers Airship arriving in the Twin Cities (lifted from the AirshipVentures.com press release) that got me interested in watching the landing with my daughters. In the article, Walsh wrote that "In a nod to its sponsor, the airship is scheduled to pass over the Farmers Insurance regional headquarters in Bloomington."

If you don't know where that is, Google the phrase and you'll find:


That office is easy to find; it's at the corner of 494 and 100 which, to my non-local readers, is a major intersection north of the Flying Cloud airport where the airship was heading.

We watched the tracking site from our home in Eagan and I left with my girls at what seemed like a reasonable time, and saw the ship in the distant sky to our south-west. That meant that we should head up 77 to west-bound 494 and meet up with it at Hwy. 100. Perfect.

Except, it didn't go there. It stayed south and went straight to the Flying Cloud airport.

Paul Walsh then updated his Star Tribune story to the present-tense without changing the planned fly-over or noting that it didn't happen, saying, "In a nod to its sponsor, the airship passed over the Farmers Insurance regional headquarters in Bloomington."

But it didn't.

It didn't, it didn't, it didn't.

And I don't mean "I expected it to fly so close that they could drop a beanbag out the window and onto the roof." I mean that it was nowhere near Bloomington, as far as I can tell.

So I wrote that in a comment on the StarTribune.com site that night:

emlarson Jul. 12, 11 8:55 PM

I don't usually complain about news articles, but as far as I know the Farmers Airship didn't go anywhere near the "Bloomington headquarters." I can understand that this morning's article was just pulled from the press release and they might have intended to fly there... but to just switch that poetically phrased plan into the past tense and write "In a nod to its sponsor, the airship passed over the Farmers Insurance regional headquarters in Bloomington" (which has to be the district office at 494 and 100) is just downright wrong and means we have a news story misrepresenting the facts of an event. Not cool. (I know it wasn't there, because I swung north and cut across 494 with my kids as we ran late and drove west, hoping that we could catch a glimpse of it before it landed. No luck because, as far as I can tell, it actually came straight across Burnsville and Savage up to Flying Cloud.)

The next morning, there were promotional spots on the morning news shows and the zeppelin started flying back-and-forth between Flying Cloud airport and downtown Minneapolis. That's what prompted this comment from "bigj111":

bigj111 Jul. 13, 11 11:50 AM

emlarson: "I know it wasn't there, because I swung north and cut across 494 with my kids as we ran late and drove west, hoping that we could catch a glimpse of it before it landed. No luck because, as far as I can tell, it actually came straight across Burnsville and Savage up to Flying Cloud"-----In fact, you ARE wrong. I watched it out my office window near Hwy 100 this morning. Get yourself a new map.

See the problem here?

  • Airship Ventures sends a press release saying they're coming to the Twin Cities and plan to fly over sponsor's headquarters as they arrive.

  • Newspaper reporter quotes that verbatim.

  • Zeppelin arrives late and avoids sponsor's headquarters by several miles.

  • Newspaper reporter simply updates now-inaccurate schedule to the present-tense without verifying that it happened.

  • Commenter points out this error that evening.

  • The next morning, Airship Ventures does fly over the headquarters. The scheduled event did happen, but not on the schedule that Paul Walsh said it did.

  • BigJ111 then lifts my comment from the night before, quotes me by name, mocks me with the insult of "Get yourself a new map," and puts my words in the context of that morning's zeppelin trips (which were completely different things on completely different days).

So, I wrote a comment on the StarTribune.com story pointing out that my concern was about the reported events of July 12th and the bigj111 sighting was the morning of July 13th, which are totally different days.

The Star Tribune chose to not publish that correction. They published another comment made a couple hours after my comment, so it's not that they're not publishing anything on articles that are a day old. But, for some reason, they left mine unpublished.

We'll see if they publish my second attempt (which I re-wrote from scratch in case they didn't like some particular phrase or punctuation, not that I can imagine what might have been wrong with it). A few minutes ago they just updated the story with a video, so I know that there are at least night-owl interns working on it. But I doubt I'll be given the chance to clear my name.

So, what's my point?

We're talking about the basic facts of reporting a story. That's something near and dear to my heart. When someone attempts to correct the record, and is unjustly attacked for it... and is blocked from defending himself... what kind of platform is a business building for itself?
Will I ever comment on the Star Tribune site again? Probably not under my own name. Not because I don't trust my own words, and not because I don't believe I can defend the facts, but because I don't trust the Star Tribune to allow its readers to defend themselves and I know nobody from the Strib is coming to my defense in my place.

Is this what "journalism" has come to?


At July 14, 2011 at 7:31 AM, Blogger Claire said...

The commenters at the strib care little for facts. You see that on any political or education article. Certain people are there solely to put others down and call names. I am not sure why any rational person would even want to try anymore (except the teacher in me still does on rare occasions). :-). Claire

At July 14, 2011 at 10:49 AM, Blogger Curtis G said...

I think social media is bringing to light the reality that "objective journalism" has always been a fiction, created to justify and sell mass-produced "one size fits all" news media. More and more we are seeing that journalism is less about "reporting fact" and more about telling a story that serves particular interests. Some people mourn the perceived loss of objective journalism. I actually don't think journalism has changed much. What has changed is that, with the transparent nature of social media, we are able to see through the fictions that the journalism industry creates.

At July 16, 2011 at 8:33 PM, Blogger emlarson said...

UPDATE: I just posted the following to the Strib article, and we'll see if they publish it. I got the same pop-up as I did the two other times, reading" "Thanks for contributing! Your comment is being reviewed for inclusion on the site." This time, if they refuse to publish something that says happy and cheerful things about both the zeppelin and Eden Prairie, we'll know that something's up:

"Since Tuesday night when I posted my comment, the zeppelin has indeed flown over the 494 & 100 interchange. But it hadn't done that yet during its initial approach on Tuesday, despite what the article said. On a happier note, I went out with my daughters this afternoon when the flights were heading south and they were thrilled to see it take off right over their heads and cruise over the Minnesota River valley. There are some really beautiful sections of Eden Prairie out there, which made for a great setting to view it!"


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