Today marks three months since Nico Hines last tweeted. You remember Nico Hines, don’t you?
“An American news website has taken down, after sustained criticism, a “deplorable” piece that allegedly outed gay Olympic athletes.
The Daily Beast, an American news and entertainment website, published an “exposé” on Thursday about the ease with which dates with Olympic athletes could be arranged on Grindr, the gay hook-up app, in Rio de Janeiro.
The piece, originally titled “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village”, quickly drew criticism of reporter Nico Hines for voyeurism and potentially putting closeted athletes at risk.
In one case, Hines gave the height, weight, nationality and language of an athlete from a country where discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community is widespread.
That Hines – who identifies himself as The Daily Beast’s London correspondent and a former writer for The Times on Twitter – is a heterosexual and married father of one, was seen to compound the tastelessness of the article.”
— The Guardian, 12th August 2016
Actually, I don’t wish to bang on about Nico Hines’ Twitter account. His lack of apology speaks for itself. I would, however, like to point out that he has clearly snuck into his account since this debacle, as he liked this tweet about an article posted in October. The fact he didn’t take this opportunity to even post an apology tweet deserves a thorough pointing at and laughing.
Still, what I really want to talk about is The Daily Beast‘s apology for the article. Yes, they did actually apologise, despite what some people would tell you. The problem is, the apology isn’t actually a very good one. And it’s not like the perfect guide for writing apologies online hasn’t been written. Derek Powazek’s “How To Apologize Online” would have told them everything they needed to know. I highly recommend you read that piece. I’ll wait.
Back? Good. Let’s take a look at how The Daily Beast did compared with Derek’s seven-step plan:
Step 1: Restate the problem.
The Daily Beast don’t do this. They skirt around the issue, but they don’t state it outright at the beginning: that they published a homophobic article which put athletes in danger.
Step 2: Own it.
This, at least, was done correctly. Just like the Kickstarter apology that Derek gives as an example, The Daily Beast baldly state: “We were wrong.”
I’d rather the site had apologised for publishing the article in the first place, rather than merely not removing it quickly enough, though.
Step 3: Say you’re sorry.
Again, The Daily Beast manage this correctly: “We’re sorry. And we apologize to the athletes who may have been inadvertently compromised by our story.”
Step 4: Explain what went wrong.
This is where The Daily Beast fucks up. Badly. They give absolutely no explanation as to how the article managed to get through their editorial process.
Derek makes an excellent point about this particular step:
“This is a tricky maneuver. Do it right and your explanation will add valuable details that help the reader better understand your perspective. Do it wrong and it’ll sound like defensiveness.”
It absolutely is extremely tricky. But you have to do it. I need to understand how the mistake was made. Full disclosure when it comes to apologies is essential, especially if you’re a news site which holds others to account.
On this point, I keep coming back to now-defunct sports website Grantland, and their apology for the piece on “Dr. V’s Magical Putter”. That story is a nightmare in its own right – here’s an overview of the situation – but the short story is that Grantland badly botched the reporting of somebody who turned out to be transgender, and who ended up killing themselves before the story was published.
The editor of Grantland Bill Simmons wrote an extensive piece as an apology, the details of which some have still taken issue with, but the crucial thing is: he explains the editorial process which lead to the story being published, and states exactly what they did wrong. I feel like quoting all of it, and it’s all well worth reading, but the following will do as an example:
“We made one massive mistake. I have thought about it for nearly three solid days, and I’ve run out of ways to kick myself about it. How did it never occur to any of us? How? How could we ALL blow it?
That mistake: Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft. This never occurred to us. Nobody ever brought it up.”
And there’s your explanation. Grantland’s staff were ignorant about the issues, and didn’t look outside their own newsroom in order to educate themselves. A terrible mistake, and one maybe most people reading this piece could say they wouldn’t have made. But at least it’s a mistake that was admitted, explained, and hopefully learnt from.
The Daily Beast has managed none of this.
Step 5: Make a vow.
Technically, The Daily Beast did this: “We will do better.” I’d rather have had more, but it’s something.
Step 6: Make amends.
Absolutely fuck-all from The Daily Beast here. As Derek says:
“Prove you get it.
Apologizing isn’t just about words, it’s about deeds. Do something to prove that you understand the magnitude of your mistake.
In Kickstarter’s case, they made a large donation to a nonprofit that’s directly related to the issue at hand. They put more money into the nonprofit than was involved in the mistake. This shows they understand the value of their community goodwill.”
The Daily Beast did absolutely nothing. Lots of words, but no actions.
Step 7: Apologize again.
The Daily Beast at least do this. They end their editors note with the simple: “We were wrong. We will do better.”
So, overall, how do The Daily Beast come out of this little test? Three out of the seven steps laid out in Derek’s article were not followed. And two of them – about explaining what went wrong, and making amends – are absolutely crucial to an apology being seen as in any way meaningful.
And this is a problem. Because The Daily Beast‘s screw up wasn’t a normal screw up. It wasn’t something that fuelled an internet outrage machine, but ultimately wasn’t that important. It put people in real, actual, physical danger. And an extraordinary mistake like that requires an extraordinary apology.
The Daily Beast didn’t manage that extraordinary apology. They didn’t even manage an acceptable one.