“Without looking it up, I can tell you the night the Toronto Blue Jays won their first World Series — October 24, 1992 — because that was also the night I lost my virginity.”
That’s how Esquire writer at large Chris Jones began his first column about the American League East for Grantland, the new sports website headed by Bill Simmons and backed by ESPN.
“I’m not nearly so sure of the night they won their second World Series,” Jones continued.
It turns out he wasn’t so sure about the first one, either.
Though the current version of Jones’ column includes the correct date of October 24, the original, published on Grantland’s launch day, actually cited October 27, though no correction was added to tell you that.
Grantland as it exists today doesn’t do a lot of explaining, engaging, or correcting. It’s practicing a brand of hermetically sealed journalism that keeps readers at arms length.
The site doesn’t accept comments on its articles. There’s no report-an-error or feedback button on its content, nor is there a basic contact page on the site. (McSweeney’s, which will publish a quarterly collection of writing from Grantland, doesn’t take comments, either, but it has a contact page. Plus, there’s a difference between writing about sports and publishing humor pieces. One difference being that McSweeney’s humor isn’t journalism, and it rarely needs to issue corrections.)
Grantland has unwittingly become an example of what happens when you don’t offer your readers and community tools and processes for feedback, participation, and correction.
One result is that Grantland readers have gone elsewhere to engage and interact. No surprise then that Deadspin, a site that has a long history of covering and antagonizing ESPN, has received a steady stream of e-mails from people pointing out errors on Grantland.
“People have to take their grievances to Twitter or take their grievances to us,” said Tom Scocca, the managing editor of Deadspin.
But are Deadspin readers just looking to mock Grantland, rather than participate?
“They’re not all doing it because they’re itching to indict Simmons and the project,” said Scocca. “A lot of people had really high hopes for Grantland and are disappointed by the stuff that gets through.”
Late last month Deadspin published a post, ”Introducing The Grantland Comments And Corrections Desk.” Yesterday, it published a follow up, “Dear Grantland: Your Motto Is Wrong.” (One reader said the quote that runs above the masthead on Grantland is in fact a misquote.)
Scocca likened Deadspin’s creation of a Grantland corrections desk to when Spy magazine published letters to the editor of The New Yorker because the magazine declined to have a letters column.
The first installment of the corrections desk lists several mistakes made by Grantland and notes whether the error was fixed and if a correction was added. In most of Deadspin’s examples, a correction was not added.
Patrick Stiegman, the VP and editor-in-chief of ESPN.com, said Grantland has been in line with the company’s overall corrections policy (which I previously wrote about).
“To your question about corrections, yes, while we are still ramping up our processes on Grantland, we have in fact been very consistent with our treatment of corrections on the site vis a vis our larger editorial corrections guidelines,” he said via e-mail.
Corrections fall into three basic categories — basic corrections, developing stories and material changes. Most corrections on Grantland have been basic — and per our policy, that means the corrections will be made on the story page as warranted, without notification required. These include simple typos, punctuation errors or inconsequential factual changes (such as statistical changes, misspellings, or dates/details that do [not] materially change the storyline), and will be corrected when discovered and confirmed. Consistent with other Web practices, in some cases, Grantland has used strikethrough as part of the correction process (as we do at times on our ESPN.com blogs).
As always, material changes will be noted on the story page and included on our corrections page (which we have already done so with Grantland).
The Grantland article that made it to the main ESPN online corrections page is this Bill Simmons piece about the Boston Bruins. Errors were fixed in the text and a correction was added to the foot of the column, along with a footnote that acknowledges one of the errors.
Then there’s this Grantland piece by Chuck Klosterman. He mistakenly wrote that tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed at the French Open. (She was stabbed in Germany.) Rather than adding a correction at the bottom, or scrubbing the error, someone decided to use the correction popular on blogs and
strikethrough the incorrect information.
The third option that seems to exist on Grantland is what happened with the Jones piece: mistakes are fixed and no one adds a correction or a strikethrough. This range of correction practices is confusing and inconsistent.
Here’s the Simmons correction:
A June 16 ESPN Grantland story about the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup incorrectly the number of games played in the 1974 Cup finals (there were six) and the year Ray Bourque won a Stanley Cup (it was in 2001).
Those mistakes seem to fall under the category that Stiegman said could include “statistical changes, misspellings, or dates/details that do [not] materially change the storyline.” ESPN’s policy is that they don’t require a correction; scrubbing is fine. Yet a correction was made for Simmons.
If you compare his mistakes to the one made by Jones in the lead of his column, I think there’s a strong argument to be made that Jones’s date error had a more significant impact on the content of his piece. Remember that the first four words of the column are, “Without looking it up ”
The entire lead is built on the notion that the correct date is burned into Jones’ psyche. But that wasn’t the case.
So why no correction?
Scocca said the correction issue is a symptom of the larger arms-length approach to Grantland. (“We’re definitely not holding Deadspin up as a flawless performer, but we strive to own the errors we make,” he told me. For a recent example, look at this correction to a notable Deadspin post about the NBA.)
“Part of the inspiration behind the whole [Grantland correction column] is that Grantland has this extremely non-interactive set up now,” Scocca said. “I think the plan is to eventually have comments but right now Grantland is handing out tablets from the mountain.”
The lesson here, aside from the fact that readers notice errors and expect corrections, is that your community will go elsewhere to engage if you don’t provide a mechanism for them to speak up and share feedback. You can’t stop them. And they could very well grow to resent you for shutting them out.
“[Grantland is] caught in a little bit of a feedback loop,” Scocca said. “Because of the scrubbing their readers think that Grantland thinks it can pass itself off as perfect. The more unacknowledged corrections, the more irritating each new error gets.”
The result for Grantland is some people are using Deadspin as a place to e-mail the errors they spot on Grantland. Others have taken to Twitter to tweet errors, questions, and feedback at the (not surprisingly) broadcast-only Grantland Twitter account. It has over 60,000 followers and follows one person. I scrolled through a long series of its recent tweets and the only people it retweeted were Simmons and a writer for Grantland who tweeted about a story he is writing for Grantland.
Maybe Scocca has a point about the feedback loop .
There is, however, one Grantland contributor who has shown a willingness to engage with the people who read his stuff. To acknowledge his errors and offer some explanation. That would be our hero of the mistaken cherry pop, Chris Jones.
He recently engaged with a Twitter user who suggested Jones made a typo in a piece on Grantland. Jones didn’t make a typo, but he did reply and explain.
He also replied to me when I asked him via Twitter if he had the wrong date for his magical night of baseball and coitus. That turned into a multiple tweet exchange in which he confessed to his error. He also explained his understanding of the Grantland correction policy after I asked him why a correction wasn’t added to his piece:
But here’s the thing: that response is at odds with the policy outlined by Stiegman. It appears as though Grantland readers aren’t the only ones confused about the site’s corrections policy.
Grantland’s editorial leadership and ESPN’s standards team need to huddle up and settle on a clear policy, and they should at the very least offer Grantland readers a way to reach out when they spot mistakes.
Correction of the Week
“THE Herald has been asked to point out that in a story we carried last week (Woman who changed her wedding day for Take That show is hit by ticket ‘scam’) that Debbie Pickett is in fact employed and does not suffer from chronic back and knee pain.” — Tamworth Herald (U.K.)
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