By: Mark Fitzgerald
By lunchtime Thursday in Davenport, Iowa, folks at Lee Enterprises Inc. were calming down over the Associated Press’ series of erroneous reports Wednesday on the company’s first Mid-Year Media Review presentation following its purchase of Pulitzer Inc.
“Certainly there’s no animosity toward AP,” spokesman Dan Hayes said in an interview. “It’s a set of circumstances, and I’m sure they’ll take whatever corrective action they need.”
Lee’s frustration, though, showed through in a press release Thursday morning, and in an internal memo that discussed the AP errors.
The press release begins: “Lee Enterprises … reluctantly issued this unusual news release today correcting errors in a series of six stories distributed Wednesday by The Associated Press after Lee’s presentation to analysts at the Mid-Year Media Review in New York City.”
It then lists a series of bullet points — nine in all — that say AP’s reporting through the day got the facts wrong on, among other things, the closing date of the Pulitzer acquisition, the size of the newly expanded company, the impact of Pulitzer on circulation and revenue, and Lee’s outlook on revenue growth.
“They had [Chairman and CEO] Mary [Junck] making predictions about stock prices, which no company would do,” Hayes said. “They mixed up numbers, said our costs were way up, said our revenues were way down. The [revised] versions got in some ways better, but the errors kept cropping up.”
Particularly frustrating, Hayes said, was that later writethrus “couldn’t get on the circuit,” and earlier errors filled up news search engines, Hayes said.
The beginning and end versions of the AP stories presented remarkably different perspectives on the presentation.
An earlier version lead with the assertion that Lee “said Wednesday its earnings per share could decline 8 cents to 10 cents for the rest of 2005 because of its acquisition of Pulitzer Inc.” It went on to report that Lee had “experienced increasing costs in niche publications and a ‘cloudy at best’ increase in classified advertising revenues.”
By 8 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, the lead read: “Lee Enterprises officials on Wednesday offered an optimistic outlook following the acquisition of Pulitzer Inc. earlier this month, although they also said the purchase will drive down earnings per share this year.”
Hayes said when he pointed out the errors to the Des Moines, Iowa, bureau, “they responded as they always have, very professionally and very responsibly.” But through the afternoon, the problem was not being fixed from Lee’s point of view because the pessimistic report was the one going to the top of news search engines.
“Throughout the day, AP refused requests for a mandatory kill,” Hayes said in a memo sent to Lee editors. “After intensive intervention by the Des Moines bureau, the New York business desk filed a story of its own [which was] also misleading and inaccurate. … Once published, this bad information never goes away. It will appear in search engines far beyond our lifetimes.”
In a statement, AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said, “The bureau made some errors in the coverage and those were corrected in cycle yesterday, both on the Iowa wire and the national business wire.
The Lee spokesman disagreed with the approach to the story that ran on the national business wire and said so. That’s his prerogative — plenty of people disagree with news calls, which are by nature subjective.”
At this point, there’s nothing more Lee can do but hope its correction reaches as many desks as the early AP versions, Lee’s Hayes said. “There’s no animosity, it’s just, something got broken.”