This week, I got a 500 word letter from a man who was unhappy about a story I had produced.
I was delighted.
I take no joy in ticking off viewers. But I do admire a guy who is thoughtful and passionate and honorable enough to actually analyze my story and critique it thoughtfully. And such complaints pop up occasionally. It’s the nature of the business.
In the last year, I’ve had people gripe to my superiors and coworkers about stories. But for some reason, they’re disinclined to actually contact me. I find that puzzling. As long as they’re rational and open-minded, I’m game to discuss pretty much anything.
Just for the record: If you don’t like my story, please contact me. My email is easy to find on 11alive.com.
The story was a one-off piece that reported a gift accepted by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, using it as an example of Georgia pols accepting (perfectly legal) gifts from lobbyists. The gift was a visit to a south Georgia hunting lodge called Ford Farm, a $600 value, according to the manager of the lodge. The story led into a poll commissioned by WXIA which showed that Georgians overwhelmingly favor legislation capping the value of such gifts at $100.
Kemp agreed to an interview, wherein he said he accepted a “celebrity” invitation to the hunt, but didn’t know who had paid for the visit. However, he said he specifically asked if lobbyists were picking up the tab. He said he was assured that wasn’t the case. Kemp accepted, confident that there would be no embarrassing disclosure. Three lobbyists nonetheless disclosed it, as required by law.
The writer who contacted me was a Kemp confidant. It doesn’t matter, though. If the story was bullshit, the background of the complainant is irrelevant.
He wrote, in part:
Your story … was a ridiculous cheap shot on a good public official that also was factually misleading and inaccurate.
Yes, several legislators attended this quail hunt and it is reasonable to assume their expenses were covered by lobbyists.
However, Secretary Kemp was invited by the charity as a special guest to help the charity raise money. He paid his own travel expenses and used his own equipment. He was specifically told upfront that no lobbyist was paying for his participation or for any of his expenses.
Public officials volunteering their time and paying their own way to help charities is a good and noble thing. We should be encouraging it! Instead you misrepresent what he did and use it as an example of legal corruption?!
Yes, lobbyist spending in GA is a legitimate issue. Yes, there are many, many examples of gross abuse of the system. And for some unknown reason you chose to factually misrepresent a public official helping out a charity to make your point?!
You are not some amateur jerk on a blog. You’re a highly respected professional in your field. You have and can do better than this. This type of slimy journalism is beneath you and raises questions of your personal integrity and credibility.
You owe Secretary Kemp a correction on this story.
I wrote back, in part:
Although I reported that Kemp felt he was misled about the likelihood of lobbyist disclosure, I’m going to change the story to clarify what Kemp said about his understanding in advance of the trip. You’re right — it could be clearer than I made it.
I don’t agree with your characterization that I “distorted the facts.” I disclosed that Kemp hadn’t expected the trip to be part of a lobbyist disclosure. However, I agree that the language in the piece could have been stronger.
(W)e always strive to be fair. I thought Kemp got a fair shake in this piece, but you’ve made some valid points.
I added three lines to the online version of the story — the one that really matters, since it lives forever on the web — which strengthened the language in Kemp’s defense.
And I was delighted to do it. The saga wasn’t a particularly important story of excessive lobbyist largesse, but rather a topical example of what critics say is an ongoing problem. Kemp’s defense, though arguably flawed, was plausible and deserved a fuller explanation than I’d allowed.
Got a problem with a story you see on TV or read on the web? Then do what this guy did: Contact the writer. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, write his boss.
And throw in a little flattery as part of your critique — even if you don’t mean it.