By Norma Gonzalez
When Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox fell ill in April, reporters came to the Braves for updates on the fourth-winningest manager in MLB history. But Beth Marshall, vice president of communications for the Atlanta Braves, couldn’t say much – not because she didn’t want to, but because it was a personal matter she didn’t have updates on.
At one point during Cox’s recovery, a reporter published a story that said the manager had left the hospital and had returned home, based on what the reporter thought was a reliable source.
Marshall ended up getting a text from Cox’s wife shortly after the story went live and confirmed her husband was still in the hospital.
“One outlet reported it and then all the other outlets retweeted it or went on their own,” Marshall said. “So, I made the call to that reporter, and I honestly don’t mind, but you have to make sure all of the other reporters that put something out there get corrected as well.”
That was one topic of discussion during Monday’s “Sourcing: Best Practices” general session with Marshall, Greg McGarity and Daniel Meachum during the 2019 APSE Summer Conference. Oscar Dixon of The Associated Press served as the moderator of the panel.
When it comes down to it, McGarity thinks the best way to have an athletic director like himself pick up a call from a reporter is to build trust and relationship. And it also involves a fair and balanced approach, he said.
The University of Georgia beat writers have McGarity’s cell number so they can reach out when working on a story. McGarity wants to help reporters get it right, even when the story deals with an issue the school hasn’t released yet.
“I think I’ve always told them, if you have something out there that you think is maybe running, before you write it – call me because I can help you avoid making a mistake,” McGarity said. “Or, if you have it, I’ll just say ‘how’d you get it?’ I want to know how they got it, but if it’s right, it’s right.”
The conversation also covered the way social media has changed the landscape.
With leaks and the ability to share information in seconds, information is shared a lot easier than before.
Meachum, a lawyer based in Atlanta, said he believes some reporters are more concerned about getting the information out first than getting it right.
Meachum considers himself from the era of typewriters, when there was no FedEx or emails. Back then, Meachum said, you were trained to get it right
“I think in the environment of social media and internet, people are not so concerned about getting it right – it’s about getting it out,” Meachum said. “And what I’m up here to tell you, as reporters, is there’s collateral damage when you get it wrong. I represent some of the people that have to deal with the collateral damage and I take it personal.”
At the end of the day, mistakes will be made. And when they do, McGarity hopes reporters are able to own up to it.
It’s not a bad thing to admit to a mistake – it may actually help recover your relationship with someone like McGarity.
“You messed up, you fessed up and you moved on, and I think you’re more believable that way when people know that you’re just like anyone else – you made mistakes out there,” McGarity said. “It’s OK, but it’s not OK to perpetuate something that’s not true and you’re too embarrassed or you don’t want to get your feelings hurt because you got it wrong.
“But I can say from my chair, I have a tremendous amount of respect for people that admit their mistakes because I’ve sure made a hell of a lot of them.”