Anatomy of a screw-up |

Anatomy of a screw-up

Alex Miller

If we’re lucky, we learn something new every day. Unfortunately, some of those lessons come at a greater cost than others.Like most journalists I’ve known, I try my best to get every fact, quote, period and semi-colon right in every story I write. I’ve been doing this long enough to have gained the experience for a pretty decent batting average. Last week, though, I blew it!The story had to do with Vail Resorts and its stock. With rumors swirling about the company since the announcement of chief executive Adam Aron’s resignation in late January, we’ve kept an eye on the stock and an ear to the ground in case anything pops up. To that end, I’ve been checking the Web site of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has a page dedicated to Vail Resorts and where all legal filings related to the company’s stock are posted.Last week, I noticed what looked like a slew of filings of “Schedule 13G,” detailing what appeared to be large trades of stock – all dated in the first two weeks of February. Not being a business writer, I looked on the Web site and learned that a Schedule 13G is required to be filed when ownership of a stock exceeds 5 percent of the total stock available. My first mistake was in misreading the definition: It didn’t say “sale” or “trade” of shares, but rather “ownership.” I concluded, erroneously, that the 13G schedules filed in relation to Vail Resorts stock referred, then, to new transactions.My second mistake was referring to the filing date of the form, rather than the “date of event” on the filing itself. Had I looked more closely, I would have seen these were all at the end of 2005 and realized that they were routine filings meant to disclose the amount of shares owned by what were all large, institutional investors.It went downhill from there. Adding them all up, it appeared that some 15 million shares had changed hands, accounting for about 40 percent of all those available. Seemed like a story. I made a call to a local investor, as well as an analyst on the West Coast who follows Vail Resorts. Neither said anything conclusive, although the analyst’s comment that they appeared to be “routine filings” should have been more of a red flag. What I heard him say, though, was that the sales were relatively routine spread around a number of different investors, and it didn’t look like any kind of a buyout.The next mistake was not calling Vail Resorts. Typically, they never make any comments on anything having to do with their stock, so I concluded it would be pointless to make the call. When Adam Aron spoke to me Monday, he said that was true in many cases, but that they certainly could have confirmed whether these were big sales happening or not. Justifiably amazed at the level of inaccuracy in the story, Aron gave me a quick tutorial on Schedule 13G and went on with his day, no doubt shaking his head and regaling associates with tales of how doltish the local media are.So that’s the story. We ran a front-page correction Tuesday, but I thought it needed more than that, along with an apology for any confusion I might have caused with the story. So, I’m sorry. They were dumb mistakes, but ones I’m sure I’ll never repeat. The experience also serves as a reminder that, no matter how much experience we have, rookie errors are still possible when we let down our diligence.Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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