Yesterday OCSN, and the rest of the media world were shocked when the Asbury Park Press let an offensive caption post on their social media and website. The one time-significant daily printed newspaper founded in 1879 seemed to have slip in recent years, but yesterday was just the culmination of a downward slope of journalism from Gannett corporate. Cost cutting measures over the years have resulted in systematic layoffs at the newspaper; reducing their current staff to a skeleton crew locally.
Gannett is a massive American mass-media corporation anchored in McLean, VA- with them being the largest United States newspaper publisher as measured by total daily circulation. They have owned the Asbury Park Press since 1997, when mergers of local newspapers was common across the country. New Jersey has many media options, but APP seems to try to stay focused on Ocean and Monmouth counties as cheaply as possible. Often they publish recirculated material from USA Today or other Gannett newspapers across the country- or routine press releases with worse stock photos than OCSN’s.
On Sunday and into Monday 03/21/21 – 03/22/21 the Asbury Park Press ran a story on Covid vaccinations here in Lakewood at Chemed- using a blurred stock image of a nurse holding a Moderna vaccine vial. The image and caption as originally published as pictured above- in those exact words and format. Clearly it was an error, and the author seemed to narrate the caption as if he was thinking it- or joking with coworkers- but it got published. Asbury Park Press executive editor Paul D’Ambrosio posted a vague apology with no real explanation as to how this offensive caption made it past all proofreading changes. His original apology is pictured below. The best part is how they apologized to Asians merely because of the word “JAP”, which Gannett and APP had no idea was even a slang term for Jewish American Princess- with nothing to do with Japanese or any other Asians. They kept digging their hole deeper!
Enter today, Tuesday March 23 2021 when Paul posts a more detailed account as to what happened- and how the journalist Gustavo Martinez Contreras has been fired. This is after NJ Governor Phil Murphy caught wind of the offensive comment, and spoke how he was not very happy. Other key NJ law makers took notice- and demanded a better answer than Paul tried to pass off initially. The public apology tour continues as Paul D’Ambrosio gravels for your forgiveness and explains how he and APP will try to do better in the future. Of course he goes on to explain how wonderful things will be, and how this was indeed a mistake by one single journalist- and NOT the attitude of the whole organization. Then as an added bonus- Gustavo has been fired, but not before Asbury Park Press touts how many journalists they hired are from “diverse” backgrounds and all that lawyer double talk. Please read him begging for mercy below:
From the editor: How an offensive caption ended up online and the new checks we put in place
The call came shortly after 7:30 p.m. Sunday. A photo with an obscene and offensive caption had been published on APP.com, appearing in a photo gallery that accompanied a story about a Lakewood health center administering COVID-19 vaccines.
I was shocked and disgusted when I learned it was true. We immediately issued an apology, but I also want to be transparent with you about what happened and what actions we’ve taken since to ensure it does not happen again.
I won’t repeat the caption here, but the words were offensive to women, the Jewish community and Lakewood, and included a slang term that was simultaneously offensive to Jews and Asian Americans. I thought someone had hacked our content management system. In reality, it was a reporter who admitted that he did a “stupid, stupid thing.”
This was an inexcusable act. The objectification of women and religious insults are intentional actions.
The reporter in question is no longer with the company.
He wrote an apology that reads, in part: “I’ve prided myself as a man who has been an advocate and supporter of women’s rights and cultural sensitivity, but this caption shows that I have plenty of work to do to address my own issues to make sure that my words and actions always treat others with respect.”
Here is how that caption got past our safeguards:
A reporter had taken photos of vaccinations, including one event in Lakewood on Feb. 25. That image remained in his camera until he wrote a story on Saturday, March 20, and uploaded 22 images into our content management system. Our reporters and photographers can file their images directly into the system, ensuring that breaking news can get to readers as quickly as possible. The usual safeguards involve an editor or digital producer reading the story and captions before publication.
But the system does allow staffers to publish directly to our website and mobile app. We trust the professionalism of our employees and know speed can be important when covering breaking news. This system has been in use for nearly a decade, and across our suite of 250-plus publications, we have not had a similar incident to this one.
Unfortunately, the offensive caption was live from Saturday night until it was discovered later Sunday. It was on the last of 22 photos, and no second set of eyes had reviewed the images. The late hour and the self-publication led the story to blend in with the dozens of other stories on the site without the proper safety checks.
As the executive editor, I take full responsibility. It is my job to ensure that the Press serves the public every day and that our content is fair and accurate. Each staffer goes through mandatory diversity and sensitivity training. Last year, I established a diversity, equality and inclusiveness group to reinforce our commitment to all communities of color and gender at the Jersey Shore.
The last five of our nine most recent hires have been diverse candidates. In a survey of all Gannett newsrooms, the Press had one of the most diverse news staffs in the company, reflecting the diverse nature of the Jersey Shore.
The error of one staffer is not reflective of our newsroom. Our reporters, photographers, producers, editors and support staff are dedicated, hard-working professionals who take pride in serving you each day.
On Monday, I instructed our staff to always put two sets of eyes on each piece of content, including stories and photos. No photo and caption will be published without another staffer looking it over, regardless of the time of day.
I know the Press failed you this weekend. But please understand how seriously we take our responsibility to this community, now and in the days and years to come. I’d like to reiterate my apology in closing: The Press and Gannett have a long history of fighting for inclusiveness, diversity and women’s rights. We took immediate and significant action once we became aware of the issue, and we changed our online procedures to ensure such an event never happens again.
Asbury Park Press/APP.com
While Ocean County Scanner News is no stranger to making errors, or offering corrections in our media operations- we certainly never single handedly offended two distinct religious or cultural/ethnic groups at once. Let us all watch how they try to sweep this under the rug- or chastise other organizations whom make similar mistakes.