When a local television station in Chicago broke a story earlier this month about workers picketing over a company’s bathroom policy, John Fitzgerald, VP marketing at Chicago Faucets found the story interesting.
“The company was the WaterSaver Faucet Co.,” Fitzgerald said. “We compete with them in a niche area of faucets, and I’m always interested in what my competitors are doing. I had no idea that a few days later, our own company would mistakenly become the subject of that story.”
Fitzgerald says that like all reporting, as a story unfolds, people edit. “It’s natural,” he explains. “There are space requirements … deadlines … the world of reporting is intense. But so is accuracy. And that’s what happened: the accuracy of who the subject company was in the original story got lost. I’m sure it was unintentional, but the consequences for us were stunning. It is amazing what impact a simple editing decision can have. We got buried in phone calls.”
The original story on Chicago CBS carried the wording this way: “Employees of a River West faucet-making company staged a protest before work on Wednesday, saying they’ve been disciplined over the length of their bathroom breaks” and went on to cover the story of how workers “filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the company has begun writing up employees for spending too much time in the bathroom during work hours.”
According to Fitzgerald, several media outlets picked it up and many edited it, but kept the context of the subject company as WaterSaver.
“Then the story began to condense,” Fitzgerald says. “‘Workers at a company in Chicago say going to the bathroom has become a race against the clock’ was a version, and that became ‘Employees of a Chicago faucet-making company reportedly staged a protest…’ That’s when it started to unravel. Many of the media outlets simply didn’t know there is a company -- our company -- called Chicago Faucets.”
Fitzgerald said it was like a wildfire. “We started getting phone calls, and then other media outlets -- including major ones and even international outlets -- started duplicating the inaccuracy with ‘That is the rule at this Chicago faucet company’ or ‘A Chicago faucet company is disciplining employees who spend more than six minutes.’ We even experienced backlash on our social media outlets.”
The good news, according to Fitzgerald, is that many of the errors were immediately fixed when contacted. “What is refreshing is that the majority of the media outlets responded in a positive way and corrected their versions, especially online,” he said. “And like all stories, as time passes, it slowly dies out.”
“I think mistakes will always happen,” he added, “but because of the digital disruptive environment we all play in now, those mistakes are compounded exponentially. Too bad it takes longer to correct them. After all, unless you refresh with F5, the mistake will keep showing up on your screen.”