Vogue certainly had its share of suitors for the show. Five other well-known TV networks were interested in “The Fashion Fund,” a person close to the company said. But the Conde Nast title selected Ovation — which had approached the magazine about the partnership — because it felt the network would celebrate fashion as an art form.

Okay, what’s wrong here? Well, what if I re-wrote the story and opened with this paragraph instead:

“In a blow to Conde Nast’s much-publicized effort to turn its iconic magazines into TV brands, Anna Wintour and Vogue have failed to land their ‘Fashion Fund’ reality television show on any of the established cable channels that would give it a large audience and prestigious launch pad. Instead, they have had to settle for a launch on Ovation, a struggling cable channel that got bounced off the dial in New York, the media capital of the world, because Time Warner Cable refused to continue to tolerate its low ratings.”

Is my version right and the other one wrong? Or vice versa? Who knows?

And that’s the point. The reporting in the article is so thin that it is impossible to know.

Every quote and account in the story is from someone with an interest in spinning, or just plain not telling the truth, about the Conde Nast launch. But these sources can’t be held accountable for what they are saying because they are anonymous.

The two reporters — yes, the story has two bylines — apparently didn’t even try to question the spin by going to the more prestigious channels, such as Bravo or A&E, and asking someone there, on the record or even for background, whether that station had been asked to bid on the show.

The giveaway to me that this story is pure spin is that “a person close to the company” (I guess the reporter means Conde Nast) said that “five other well-known TV networks” wanted the show, but then declined to name any of the five. Well, if you’re going to insist on anonymity so that you can’t be held accountable for what you say, why wouldn’t you then name at least one or two of those disappointed networks? After all, the networks won’t be angry at you because you’re not being named.

The only answer can be that you’re afraid the reporters might actually call them to check — which, of course, is something the reporting team from Ad Age should have done anyway by calling any and all possible suitors. It’s not a long list, and reporting is supposed to be just that, not stenography.

Here’s a suggestion for whenever you read a business story that depicts a clear winner and loser. If the alleged winner has put out a press release that seems a bit suspicious (as in, “Of course we chose Ovation over Bravo”), that’s strike one. If the release is followed by only anonymous spin, that’s strike two. And if the loser or losers (in this case all those supposedly disappointed suitors at the other networks) have not even been asked to give their accounts of what happened, that’s strike three.

 

Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.