Just after our Jan. 1 issue printed and reached readers' desks early last month, I answered a call from the CEO of one of the top five home building companies. No, I hadn't made his Happy New Year call list.
On behalf of a colleague—Bruce Karatz—this executive told me he felt compelled express his dismay and disappointment with the way that one of our headlines depicted the outgoing KB Home CEO in the January issue.
The executive—who requested anonymity—went on to talk about the press. Namely, he talked about editors and reporters who scrutinize the newsworthy performance and behaviors of business executives.
“I hope that each one of those writers or producers who airs information that adds to the embarrassment of a business or public figure knows and experiences personally the same level of anguish and humiliation, and knows, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,' and knows that a lot of what they write or report is not as true as they think it is,” he said.
The media, this caller told me, are sometimes full of themselves. They often fail to remember the consequences of what they report.
Finally, he said, above all, BIG BUILDER should be a magazine that refrains from reporting and publishing articles that portray its leaders in a negative light.
Fact is, the two-word headline we placed over a block of text in a secondary article about Karatz was inappropriate. It was an excessive attempt to attract attention to information in the text block below, and it easily could be taken in an unintended but nonetheless derogatory way. This was an example of flawed editorial judgment. And I'm sorry for it.
With that said, the text of the main article and the accompanying data attest to this magazine's recognition that in two decades Bruce Karatz became a legendary contributor to KB Home and the industry. It is not the magazine's place to judge him, and our intention is to be respectful in every aspect. However, as my caller reminded me, “You can do a lot of things right, but if you do one thing wrong, that's what everybody is going to remember you for.”
We're here to cover a complex industry, one that will continue to naturally select winners and losers, and one that as a whole is enduring an intense and painful gut check this year.
We will continue to have the courage to do challenging stories, whether or not their timing is in the immediate interest of their subjects. But we also will strive to have the humility to communicate that we're not know-it-alls and that our job is to enlighten—not darken—the way ahead for you, our readers.
This issue's example is “Arrested Development,” written by senior editor Judi Hasson and starts on page 46. Normally, a regional 500-home builder with revenues well shy of $300 million would hardly merit a six-page feature story. Principals involved in the Kara Homes proceedings urged us to wait to do the story until after the mess is resolved.
But we felt the time to do it was now. This story hearkens only too powerfully to the stories of the 1970s and 1980s; while the plotline is familiar, the characters are different. But the sequence of their decisions to pile one risk on top of another at the expense of a more cautious path to growth is quite similar.
And we believe the Kara story will not be the only one of its kind this year.