I did a stint as a writer for a few months in the late 1980s for a trade publication called ‘The Griffin Report of Food Marketing.’ I was in charge of turning press releases into something akin to reporting. A mass mailing would go out with a headline along the lines of “Star Market promotes Joe Blow,” and I’d add a few paragraphs about Mr. Blow and how great he was going to be as deputy regional assistant apple buyer for southeastern Massachusetts. Sometimes, I’d call up and interview these people to see if they had anything to say to their fans in the Griffin Report.
Once, I trekked out to Troy, NY overnight to interview the Freihofer’s bakery people. I wore a jacket and tie and brought my notebook to record the Friehofer story. It was a small operation, and they spoke of the “trust” that people have in the Freihofer’s brand. I didn’t mind that trip, despite Troy’s gritty underbelly, because I got to see the factory where they made the bread I had eaten now and again as a kid. The piece I wrote became an insert in the Griffin Report that the Freihofer’s people paid thousands for. I later did another insert – a bigger one – featuring SS Pierce, whose foodservice division had just been bought by Kraft. Those SS Pierce interviews were insufferable, as I sat in executives’ offices and listened to them lavish praise on themselves and their new bosses at Kraft. Readers might have noticed that these inserts were ads, not reporting, but if so it wasn’t because we made it plain to them. It would have been very possible for the “casual” Griffin Report reader to come to the conclusion that we thought S.S. Pierce was a fascinating company and decided to pad our newspaper with several extra pages just to give those windbags a place to sound off.
During the two or so months that I was with the Griffin Report, my friend Roy was dying for me to break some huge supermarket scandal, something dark and sleazy with high stakes that would turn the supermarket world upside down, like a simmering botulism crisis or horsemeat being added to ground beef patties. Instead, I came to learn that the owner of the Griffin Report had badly fibbed about the number of responses he had received for our “best buyer” survey.
As media lies go, this was a minor infraction: the declared winner had indeed gotten the most votes, but the article claimed that about half the ballots sent out had been returned, when the truth was it was far less than that. But I already had lost respect for the publisher of the Griffin Report because he made me do beer runs in the late morning so he could drink his lunch, and believed that “writers should have their own pens and pencils,” and thus refused to stock the supply closet with them. Ultimately, I quit in an unseemly confrontation over his refusal to correct the story’s factual error, though it was actually the sum total of bad experiences that forced my hand.
I did, however, stay on through the next deadline because I liked the editor and other writer, and it’s even possible that I allowed my byline to be associated with the results of the survey, though I doubt it. I may never know that for sure because I can’t find my copy of the issue in question, having used it to line a birdcage or make a campfire years ago.