SFGN celebrated publishing its 600th issue by posting a little note on Facebook, and we received many acknowledgments of appreciation. Thank you.
Three days later, my associate publisher was on local television explaining to WSVN Channel 7 how we somehow allowed to be published an ad that was blatantly racist and transparently offensive.
It did not take rocket science to figure it out. The author of the ad had advertised before. So, we negligently trusted him. He submitted a copy that he admitted was controversial, but the person in charge paid no attention to it, because, frankly, we never had a problem with this person’s ad before.
Additionally, the advertiser also submitted the copy with a credit card. So, it was rubber-stamped. It should not have been. Money talks again.
Making things worse is that the advertiser successfully produced an ad that was purposely deceptive and duplicitous. Amateur though he was, he fooled us. He created a visual that appeared to advertise a theatrical version of West Side Story, not a modern version of hate.
Hurriedly skimming through the paper, you might not notice the ad did not give a time and date for the show. We are so visually accosted every day on our TV screens and internet providers that we just don’t pay attention anymore the way we should to things that are right in front of us. And boy, did that bite us in the ass this time, big time.
Few ads are bought to make a point. They promote their businesses. They sell goods. They sell food. Ads go through the advertising department. Editorial goes through the editorial department. That’s the way it works. But in this case, this was a paid editorial cartoon making a statement, disguised as a theatrical ad. It missed its mark. And so few even noticed. We have become anesthetized.
From me to everyone else on the staff, our failure to flag that stupid freaking ad led to the most embarrassing moment I have experienced in 40 plus years as a weekly news publisher in South Florida. That’s right, over 40 years.
The first paper I ever published in South Florida was released on July 4, 1978, when “Sportsbreak” hit the stands in Coral Springs, It was a weekly paper promoting the youthful and emerging athletic community growing up in northwest Broward County.
Back then, there were no PDF’s and JPG’s. We laid out the paper cutting up a copy and placing it on stick tape. Once, I may have published the wrong ad for Sneaker City, promoting a Michael Jordan shoe instead of a Patrick Ewing special.
But on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, three weeks out of Brain Surgery from the University of Miami Neuroscience Institute, I was not ready for this.
On page 25 of the South Florida Gay News, we did not have an ad for “West Side Story.” We did not have an ad displaying an erotic man featured with gold beads around his neck.
On Aug. 12, SFGN ran an ad depicting an image of a naked young Black man being lynched, with a rope around his neck. And it looks like the dancer was stepping on the face of George Floyd, yet another character cast deceptively in the image.
I was mortified, ashamed, embarrassed, just as Jason Parsley, my associate publisher was. What do we do next? First, I immediately instructed our delivery drivers to go back through their route, collect every issue, and burn them. Recycle them. The papers were poisoned, vile, and disgusting. Get rid of them. Now.
Simultaneously, I contacted Stuart Web, who prints our paper. I asked them to come in on Sunday if they had to, but to immediately reprint our paper with the offending ad stricken. They were great. By Monday afternoon, a new issue of SFGN was on the stands, without the obscene ad. As many of the offending issues as we could find were retrieved, removed, and destroyed.
No matter what, everything that happened to cause the offending copy to reach our newsstand is the fault of SFGN and our negligence. I am the publisher. It’s my job, as the guardian of your community newspaper, to make sure this kind of crap does not happen.
It does not matter that my graphic designer was in another time zone in Germany trying to get his first vaccine shot.
It does not matter that my associate publisher was in Kentucky trying to deal with the fact that his unvaccinated older brother is in a hospital with COVID.
We can all have excuses after the fact. If you publish a newspaper that is an investment in an entire community, you don’t tolerate mediocrity. You master it. You surround yourself with people that rise to the occasion, not tell you why they fell down.
No matter what the excuses, our first, second and third lines of defense spectacularly failed at SFGN. Like Uncle Ben said to all of us in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Publishing a community newspaper is not just slapping words on a printed or digital page. It means being part of something bigger than yourself. It means holding yourself to a higher standard.
If our paper insists on transparency from others, we must own up to it ourselves. It would be sheer hypocrisy to do anything else. Thus, you are entitled to know how we are handling this major screw-up. First, the person responsible has been suspended for two weeks. They should have known better. They are too experienced for SFGN to excuse this kind of mistake.
An advisory from an advertiser had forewarned the paper that a “controversial” ad was being submitted. That warning was paid no heed, and the resulting negligence has embarrassed the reputation of SFGN and violated our trust with you.
However, we are a family here at SFGN, a small community, not just a big corporation. This person is an extraordinarily talented individual who has faithfully served this paper and our community for over a decade. This person has volunteered their time and services to multiple non-profits, and championed just and honorable causes during their entire tenure at SFGN. One mistake does not define this person’s career, dedication, and loyalty.
We will use this as a learning moment, and do better next time. If we make better decisions, we can expect better outcomes, happier endings, and newer beginnings.
At SFGN, we have written hundreds of stories over thousands of pages these past 10 years. We expose the naked city, with all its wins, warts, and wounds.
This week, it’s us. Our screw-up. We own it. But that’s all she wrote folks. Now we have another paper to put out.
Finally, our thanks to the readers and advertisers, like Peter at Stork’s, who caught this error, and cared enough to bring it to our attention. You make us better.