Up Front: October 2008

Sin of omission

Needless to say,” Charles Flowers e-mailed me, “this is a troubling letter.” He was referring to one that Will Sears, a Boone real-estate broker, had written about the cover story in our August issue on Bobby Ginn and Laurelmor, the mammoth residential and golf resort in Wilkes and Watauga counties. Sears had called to complain about the piece, so we invited him to put his thoughts down in a letter to the editor.

“As someone who has grown to respect your publication,” he wrote, “I was disheartened by the lack of ‘investigation’ that went into this story. My concern is not with The Ginn Co., as they have been very successful in the real-estate business and a model in the industry at marketing their products. My concern is with the lack of reporting that went into this story, which looks as if it could have been written by a public-relations firm rather than a journalist.

“Just a few days before I received your August issue, several media outlets published articles on the financial troubles The Ginn Co. was experiencing, and this information had been in circulation for several months. For Mr. Flowers to overlook such an important aspect of The Ginn Co. story does a disservice to us, your readers, and business people all over North Carolina.” He went on to say: “Shame on your editors for not doing better fact checking before publishing the story.”

Troubling, indeed. But painful as his criticism is, it pales before what we felt when newspapers in Winston-Salem and Boone reported that Ginn-affiliated companies were fighting off foreclosure after failing to make payments on a $675 million loan for Laurelmor and three other projects. That was six days after we finally let go of the story. We had already blown deadline by more than a week, trying to chase down rumors and nail down facts. But, as events showed, there had been a piece of the puzzle we failed to find. By the time the news broke, the August issue had been printed and was headed to readers in the mail.

Time, often the great ally of magazine reporting, had not been on our side. Charles Flowers, a Marion freelance writer with nearly 40 years’ experience in journalism, got the assignment in late December. He talked to more than 30 sources, even traveling to The Ginn Co. headquarters in Florida, and turned in his first draft in March. By his count, it went through five revisions in the months that followed. As lead editor on the piece, Ed Martin not only checked facts but went back to sources, probing further. The story that finally appeared posed some hard questions about Ginn’s track record and this project’s chances of success. But over the course of nearly eight months, things had changed, events had transpired, of which we were unaware.

This magazine prides itself on how tough it can be on business, so comments such as this writer makes in his letter do sting. As I’ve said before on this page and, for more than two decades, have preached to our editors and writers: At times we can be provocative, but we must always be thorough, fair and accurate. That’s the three-legged stool on which our reputation rests. If any one of them comes up short, we fall flat on our ... well, you get the picture.


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