Last Thursday morning, Boston.com staff were called into a meeting to discuss what they thought was the worst mistake they would have to deal with that day. The previous evening, the site had posted a story accusing Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman of sending a racist email to a Sichuan Garden employee—only to retract the story a short time later, as it became clear that Edelman didn’t actually send the email, a key fact they hadn’t verified before going live with their version of events.
In the meeting, Corey Gottlieb, executive director of digital strategy and operations at Boston Globe Media Partners, assured the team that, this incident notwithstanding, Boston.com’s values and processes are solid. “There’s a reason this doesn’t happen every other week,” Gottlieb said. “This feels more like an exception.”
What Gottlieb probably didn’t know at the time was that the next act was unfolding right in front of him. The morning meeting was being secretly recorded, and the leaked audio would later land in the hands of a couple of media outlets around town, prompting rumors of disciplinary action of two staffers. And Hilary Sargent, the top editor in the room, would be handed a weeklong suspension after a “joke” she made online landed with a thud.
Layers of editors and fact-checkers. Plus, stonewalling media inquiries about the debacle: “When it comes to answering journalists’ difficult questions, the Globe’s policy is Do as we say, not as we do.”