2011-08-20 / Viewpoints

An apology; an explanation


We are more than sorry that our sloppy work on last week’s Cameron County tax listing caused pain and embarrassment for so many people.

We are also more than sorry that our readers were subjected to a vicious attack that included offensive language that no one should have to see in a hometown, family newspaper.

I suspect it is obvious to our readers that we would never knowingly run such an offensive piece. After all, the tax listing is an advertisement for which we are well paid. And, like all small businesses, we are certainly not in the financial position to forfeit any revenue, let alone a signifi- cant amount.

We have been advised, even threatened, to not tell the whole truth. But, the truth is what newspapering is about, especially in a circumstance where so many good people have been harmed by someone’s viciousness.

Some would have us simply tell you that our file was tampered with and leave it at that. But we would be fools if we didn’t remove all doubt in your minds about who inserted the false and hurtful information.

The truth is not flattering for us, to be sure, because I personally did a couple things for which I will be judged. But I can tell you for sure, one of those things was NOT specifically attacking some of the community’s most prominent, giving, good people.

And while I will jump back and forth in this writing from using “I” to using “we,” relative to any blame on our end, please understand that it was all me. No other on our team had any part in the two areas we failed as you will see in this exact explanation of the actions that led to the publishing of false information that hurt good people and undermined the county’s efforts to collect on taxes it is owed.

Bear with me, please.

The tax information you see in the newspaper every year is a paid advertisement. The county is required by law to run it in two newspapers of general circulation. We are fortunate to be one of the newspapers the county chooses.

We receive the information from the assessment office as an electronic file. Our job then is to take that electronic file, retype it, format it, proofread it, put it on a newspaper template and proofread it again.

That process costs us a minimum of five man hours and often more. And for many years, that’s how we did it.

The past two years, however, I chose a short cut and that’s the first of my two mistakes in this embarrassing, unnecessary blunder.

To understand my attempt at saving my team unnecessary work, you have to understand how we print the newspaper, so please bear with me again as I outline that process.

There are only a couple broadsheet printing presses in this region, so we, as well as most other publishers, outsource that work.

To do that, we send pages to the printer using file sharing software that allows us to simply place the files on a distant server (hard drive) through an internet connection.

That server holds the pages and information from many newspapers that use the same company to print their editions.

Among those newspapers is the Cameron County Echo, whose files are available to all who have access to the printer’s server.

Last year at this time when we received the tax listing from the county, it occurred to me that the information was available in processed form and that I could save my typesetter and designer several hours of work by using it.

It was the Echo’s tax listing.

I pulled their tax sale page down, made changes and additions that were given to us by the assessment office and then got it ready for print.

My thinking was: “hey, it’s not intellectual property. It’s a public document that has been typeset, proofread and has withstood public scrutiny.”

It was a calculated risk, something with which all people in business are familiar. The risk panned out. I was right. We printed the tax sale listing without error.

That was 2010.

It is obvious to us now that the people at the Echo figured out we had done that.

Now, fast forward to last week.

I pulled the Echo file in the middle of the week. I admittedly did not go through the piece because I had seen the page in print and it was accurate— or so I thought.

The “perfect storm” of incredible circumstances leading up to this outrageous event had begun to unfold.

As fate would have it, this year there were no corrections or additions to the page, so I never had a reason to scrutinize it.

So, on Thursday, our production day, the file was put on an Endeavor News page and prepared for printing.

And now comes my second, and final, gaffe.

Smart people have to question, “why was the page not proofread?”

That is an excellent question to which I have a reasonable answer, albeit an unacceptable one, particularly in retrospect.

Having worked for many years at the Echo, I know the person who typesets and proofreads. She is one of the best at those jobs of anyone I have been around in my 20 years in the newspaper business.

Knowing she had proofread it was not the only reason I failed to have my team review it. The bigger reason was that the document had survived three days of public scrutiny. It was in the Echo early Tuesday and normally our phone rings steadily through the week as people challenge what was printed in the Echo, hoping we won’t print the same.

As the “perfect storm” for this disaster would have it, our phone didn’t ring this year. There were no changes. No additions. No corrections. No problems whatsoever with the document.

So, I took my second calculated risk.

But, I had not bargained for a reality created in the mind of someone whose actions were so vindictive and hateful that it defi es explanation.

Instead of printing the file the Echo had printed a few days before, we printed the file the Echo wanted us to print— one that had been altered to make fools of us and harm many, many good people in the process.

Someone at the Echo had done the unthinkable. Once their paper had been printed, they removed the accurate file and replaced it with the malicious one, hoping or knowing we would try to use it.

I have both files— the good and the bad— on my desktop as I write and will happily provide them to anyone. The file information is very clear. It even lists who the author is, what time it was created, the original software that created the file (software we don’t even own), etc.

As an interesting side note: it took the author one hour and 25 minutes to do the damage. That’s the time difference between when the original file was created and when the vicious one was.

So, the Echo “got” us. What a coup, right?! That will teach us...

But who did they really get?

Couldn’t they have “gotten” us just by removing the file which would have ensured that we had to create the work from scratch?

Or, if they had to be vindictive, couldn’t they have hurt us just as much by using names like Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Goofy and the rest of the Disney gang?

Or how about using my own name or my relatives?

We’ll let you decide why they chose to defame real people in their effort to destroy us.

In true fashion of someone who would be willing to do something like this, we were contacted by their lawyer Monday. Of course, neither the guilty party nor anyone else from the Echo showed up for the meeting; just their lawyer who had a message for us, from them.

The message as I understood it— “You sweep this under the rug and we won’t pursue legal action against you for you using our file.”

Obviously, their threat did not strike fear into me.

What I do fear is losing the trust and confidence of so many people who know and respect us. I fear having anyone believe that I, or anyone on my team, would deliberately hurt someone.

And telling the whole truth is the only way to gain that trust and confidence back and to ensure our readers that what you get when you read this newspaper is the best work we can do with the people and resources we have.

We had to let people know that the truth is what is important to us. Always.

We have been assured that we haven broken no laws. We have been assured that we are not responsible for libel.

But, if we do face any court action, we will gladly explain the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Our victory is in the court of public opinion, where the truth shows that I took honest, calculated risks that did not work out in my company’s favor.

That same court now has the information it needs to hand down a verdict on those whose actions were not nearly as innocent.

Return to top