A lesson for LGBT news aggregator Web sites

Wednesday, March 10 the San Francisco Chronicle’s political columnist duo Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross penned an incendiary piece about how the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco was supposedly near foreclosure and was seeking a $1 million cash infusion from the city to help keep its doors open.

The story was picked up by countless LGBT news aggregation sites – as well as the Associated Press – and quickly went viral on the Web. Joe.My.God titled its post “SF LGBT Center in Financial Crisis.”

There was one problem though – the columnists hadn’t gotten the facts quite right. Since the piece ran LGBT center officials have had to do damage control and explain that, in fact, they are not in financial crisis or about to foreclose on the building.

In an email sent out this week by center executive director Rebecca Rolfe, she called the Matier and Ross column “inaccurate and inflammatory.”

Last week the center’s board co-chairs and Rolfe issued a letter in response to the mistakes made by the columnists. And over the weekend center staffers contacted those Web sites that ran with the incorrect story to ask them to publish corrections.

Both the Advocate.com and local blog SFist.com did just that, along with several other sites that had picked up on the story. But just as many others have not corrected themselves, as a Google search shows.

Other than publish a letter to the editor, near as I can tell the SF Chronicle has not followed suit, nor has any update or change been made to the online version of the March 10 Matier & Ross column.

The episode is a good example of the problem with bloggers and Web sites not checking the facts before they re-post an item in another news source. And it is a prime reason why LGBT news outlets are needed in this day and age when mainstream news outlets have done away with their LGBT beat reporters.

A little Googling would have brought up my newspaper’s original reporting on the SF center’s request for city funds in a story published February 4, which did get the facts right. Curiously enough that story was ignored by the same bloggers and Web sites that ran with the Chronicle column over a month later.

But as they say bad news can be good news. And in a guest editorial the B.A.R. published today (March 18) gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty believes the events of the last two weeks could have an upside for his push to secure the city loan for the center.

“The San Francisco Chronicle‘s recent headline, “LGBT Center looks to San Francisco for a bailout,” certainly cast some clouds over 1800 Market Street.

But grabbing the community’s attention may be the silver lining by fostering discussion about the center, its great programming and unique role, especially around economic opportunity,” wrote Dufty.

Sometimes it pays to remember that if you are reading an LGBT news item in the mainstream press, chances are it is really old news and was previously covered in an LGBT news outlet. And often the gay press article is more accurate or less spun than the mainstream version.

Something for those bloggers who claim there is no need anymore for more traditional LGBT news outlets to chew on.

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5 Responses

  1. You make good points. I must point out that I too posted a correction within several hours, which I did immediately upon receipt of a Twitter message from the SF LGBT Center.

    http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/03/sf-lgbt-center-denies-1m-bailout-reqest.html

    I must also note that for whatever reason, the Bay Area Reporter never shows up in my Google news alerts on any LGBT-related topic. (Not that the B.A.R.’s apparent “this is not a crisis” story about the Center would have been particularly blog-worthy.

  2. Hey Joe

    Thanks for linking to your correction – it didn’t come up for some reason when I was searching around online earlier today.

    And you make my point exactly in noting that if you had seen the BAR story it wouldn’t have been blog-worthy, as you put it.

    I wonder if you had looked at that story after reading the Chron article if you would have been more skeptical of their spin or decided not to link to it at all?

  3. If I’d seen the BAR story, I’d have still blogged the Chron story, but would have included the contradictory story from the BAR.

    But blogs are not weekly newspapers and we (mostly) rely upon minute-by-minute news alerts on the topics pertinent to each of our particular site styles. I use Google for this and their service bunches stories on the same topic, making it easy to look for contradictions or differing spins on a single story.

    Your BAR story from one month earlier not only would not have appeared in that alert, at the moment I can’t find it within the first dozen or so pages of results for a search on “SF LGBT Center” and “finance.” To my mind, at least part of the problem here is the apparent low Google Rank of the Bay Area Reporter. (I do scan the BAR regularly when the new issue goes up on Wed/Thur, FWIW.)

    And you must agree that in general, the Chron is a pretty reliable source. I probably wouldn’t have gone with the story from another blog without a confirming source from elsewhere.

  4. I guess it depends on the terms you are using on Google.

    When I searched under “SF LGBT Center, loan” the BAR February story is listed at number 7.

    And yes The Chronicle is pretty reliable but it sure isn’t infallible. No media outlet is.

    It reminds me of the oft repeated news saying, “If your mother says she loves you, get a second source.”

  5. I don’t know if it’s fair to say this is a blogger-problem. After all, M&R are the ones who went for the incendiary storyline (as they so often do). And I think bloggers can be forgiven for thinking that if it’s in the Chron, it must’ve at least been fact-checked. After all, M&R are the ones presumably getting paid, whereas so many bloggers are not.

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