Saturday, August 07, 2010

Standard-Examiner Letter: Paper Looks the Other Way Regarding Scandals

While the SE did in fact decline to publish Dan's longer version, we're pleased to observe that the SE had the guts to publish a shortened one

In the aftermath of our 7/29/10 WCF screed, we're delighted to call our readers' attention to this Dan Schroeder letter to the editor, which appears in this morning's Standard-Examiner hard copy edition letters column:
Paper looks the other way regarding scandals
While the SE did in fact decline to publish Dan's longer version, we're pleased to observe that the SE had the guts to publish a shortened one.

Amidst the public perception that our home town newspaper actively shields our Emerald City mayor from legitimate public criticism, we applaud the SE for carrying this morning's Dan Schroeder letter.

20 comments:

Dan S. said...

Thanks for the plug, Rudi.

This letter wasn't intended as a shorter version of the rejected commentary, although there's a bit of overlap.

The S-E informed me last year that by policy, they don't print guest commentaries criticizing the paper's editorial positions, except when the author is someone they've criticized directly. But they're much more permissive with letters (under 350 words).

Meanwhile, I see that the policy of not mentioning Mayor Godfrey has now been extended even to the Standard's own editorials.

Danny said...

Nice work from Dan Schroeder.

But one can follow the money.

So perhaps there is little need to wonder why the SE does not report the illegal dealings of Godfrey.

Abe Glasmann Rolls Over in His Grave said...

"Meanwhile, I see that the policy of not mentioning Mayor Godfrey has now been extended even to the Standard's own editorials."

OUR VIEW: A renewed Marshall White Center

Don Wilson said...

In response to my suggestion that the SE was favoring Ogden's Mayor by declining to publish Dan's (original) Commentary - Andy Howell, Executive Editor, assured me that "at no time have any public officials or private citizens, been able to dictate or control what is published in the news or opinion columns of this newspaper".

Can I take this to mean that it is the editors at the Standard who dictate and control what is published in the SE and therefor, it is this group (not public officials or private citizens) who consistantly contrive to avoid even a hint that they would editorially criticize the Mayor.

Most of us who read the WCF are stuck with the wisdom of: IF IT LOOKS LIKE A DUCK, WADDLES LIKE A DUCK AND QUACKS LIKE A DUCK CHANCES ARE THAT IT IS A DUCK! If this isn't clear enough for you, Mr. Howell, substitute "BIASED EDITORS" for DUCK in the above.

Curmudgeon said...

DW:

Mr. Howell told you "at no time have any public officials or private citizens, been able to dictate or control what is published in the news or opinion columns of this newspaper." Not being a fly on the wall in the SE's editorial offices, I can't speak to that from certain knowledge, but I think what he told you is probably true.

But... you knew there was a "but" coming, right?... a paper shying away from vigorous questioning, enthusiastic digging, dogged fact-checking with respect to elected officials' statements, policies and claims can also be simultaneously true . Deciding as a matter of policy to do that, even on the editorial pages, is not necessarily "taking orders" or "being told what to do." But it can result in coverage far less vigorous than a paper's readers ought to expect.

So can a belief that writing and publishing "balanced" and "fair" stories requires the "he said/she said" approach, without any attempt to let readers know whether one side or the other is better supported by the evidence the reporter turned up doing the story. That approach to news writing and editing also does not involve anyone in office "telling the paper what to do," but it ends up, again, delivering to readers less than they ought to expect from their home town daily.

I ought to add, in fairness to the SE, that that last matter [refusing to draw conclusions in stories as the hallmark of fairness] is a matter under serious debate among journalists, reporters, editors and J-school folk, nation. Much on the web about the debate. So if the SE's editors or publishers are governed by the "no conclusions in news stories is the way to be fair" they are [sadly] by no means alone in thinking that.

That's not, by the way, how good newspapers used to operate. And you can still find papers that run by the old standard but they seem to be a declining breed. Then again, all newspapers seem to be that these days.

In Northern Utah, you mostly find the older vigorous approach to reporting in the alternative press like the Salt Lake City Weekly which does some of the best investigative journalism in the state just now IMHO.

Don Wilson said...

Curm,
Your usual thurough and thoughtful analysis. I am certainly not a newspaper buff, but I have been reading editorials in the SE and its predecessor, the Ogden Standard Examiner, for well over sixty years. Before that it was pretty much front page and funnies.

Seems to me we are playing word games. As to who is influencd by what, or who is beholden to whom I am unable to say. My point - If Mr. Howells statement is true then the kid glove treatment of the Mayor and his merry band is an act of editorial volition. As to the reason(s) for this evident partiality - favors, policy, whatever, Again, I can't say. I hope we can agree on one point however, I believe that the editors of the SE have demonstrated bias in calling the shots editorially and influencing the newspapers reporters and staff to follow their lead, otherwise, how could we possibly explain ACE reporter Schwebke's signiture style - "according to Mayor Godfrey" - sadly, it begins and ends there.

Curmudgeon said...

DW:

Wasn't so much disagreeing with you as elaborating on some of the issues you raised.

Stories about a Mayoral announcement or press release more or less have to have sentences beginning "according to Mayor Godfrey." The problem is what happens then. Reporter digs up someone known to be opposed to the Mayor on whatever issues is involved, asks for a print-byte [so to speak] opposing the Mayor's statement. And then... nothing else. That ought to be the beginning of a good paper's work, not the end. That's the point at which dogged fact-checking and digging should begin. That done, it all comes up roses for the Mayor, then say so. Tell the readers that. But that done, and holes appear in the Administration line, then tell readers that.

RJ Svengali said...

In any event, the proper question isn't what a journalist thinks is relevant but what his or her audience thinks is relevant. Denying people information they would find useful because you think they shouldn't find it useful is censorship, not journalism.

Curmudgeon said...

RJS:

It's a delicate balance, RJ. Newspapers, especially in these parlous time, don't have a lot of space to play with. [The woefully thin Monday edition of the Standard Examiner is on the table as I type.] Every story that goes in represents a choice, and means half a dozen different stories, or more, didn't go in that morning. Newspapers have to make judgments about what is relevant [or, put a little differently, what it is important for their readers to know] and what is not.

We can argue that they're making those judgments poorly, but not I think that they shouldn't make them at all. Even when advertising was booming and papers were thick and they had more space in which to carry news, they had to make choices about relevance. And I'm afraid if they relied exclusively on what the public collectively wants to read, the SE would look each morning like the old National Enquirer ["Woman Gives Birth To Fish!" "Hillary's Alien Lover Murdered Vince Foster!" --- with a picture of the alien looking like someone from the ship in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Not to mention that available space for news is cut even further by the fact that many readers don't really buy newspapers for news about city affairs or government. They buy papers for sports news, for the heart-tugger feature stories, for stories by and about their kids, and so on. Any home town paper that didn't print stories like those would be out of business in a week. And the SE is a regional paper, not Ogden's daily anymore. It has more subscribers from Davis County than from Weber County or Ogden specifically. It has to report what city government is up to in Syracuse and Roy and Layton and Clearfield as wells as in Junction City.

Today's SE in the A section, devotes a full page to a story about students on a dig at Nine Mile Canyon and students on a school trip to Kentucky--- both written by students. The B section [Top of Utah --- all of four, count 'em four pages long] has a long human interest story about a homeless guy who likes living in Ogden, and one full page given to ads. There are stories about public affairs in Morgan, Farr West, Layton and Plain City. That doesn't leave a whole hell of a lot of room for news about Ogden city government matters. And so they have to make judgments about what is important enough to take up the thin space available and what isn't. They've got no choice.

you who said...

And who do you suppose authorized the preparations to demolish the Leshamville houses?
The City has crews down there removing asbestos, and the burn will happen whether the Council approves it or not.
The Mayors plan is to do what he wants, and to hell with the council.
When will the Council hold Mayor Godfrey accountable for his actions?

Curmudgeon said...

The demolition is going to happen, and whether it's done by burn or more traditional raze-and-haul methods, the asbestos, I think, would have to be removed and dealt with separately. Crews removing asbestos do not necessarily imply anything about how the demolition will be done overall.

you who said...

But have the council given the go ahead to spend tax dollars yet?
I thought not. It's do what I want and ask forgiveness later. He walks all over the council.

The Mayors is responsible for picking the looser Gadi Lesham for this development, Gadi is the one who has profited, and we the taxpayers are picking up the tab, again.


And it will burn, think about why the price to burn or tear down is not so much of a difference in dollars, someone is going to have a nice little slush fund. Ashes wheigh a lot less than non burned debris.

D. Wilson said...

Curm:

My comment "we are playing word games" was in reference to editor Howell's method of dancing around the point. In an opening paragraph Mr. Howell stated:

"We have different criteria for accepting letters to the editor and guest commentaries. We print any letter we receive as long as the writer meets our guidelines. With guest commentaries, we are more discretionary, hence the name".

Except perhaps, in Mr. Howell's own mind, I'm not sure how "hence the name" relates guest commentaries to discretionary. Perhaps as a "guest" of the paper a writer is required to meet certain unspecified requirements that are known only to the SE editors, (emphasis mine). With the possible exception of my minor question about "hence the name", everything in Mr. Howell's statement appears to be accurate. My supposition raises the point however, that Howell chose to avoid, i.e., what are the standards that the SE applies in considering a guest commentary as a candidate for publication? Guidelines for letters are published but there are no published guidelines for guest commentaries. Imagine that!

D. Wilson said...

R.J. Svengali:


Your post pretty well sums it up. Short and sweet.

I wonder said...

Let's see--what could I comment on WITHOUT Curmudgeon responding with his take on the subject?

Curmudgeon said...

I wonder:

The relevance of logical positivism for our contemporary world. I have absolutely no opinion on that whatsoever, never have and don't ever expect to. So if you want to weigh in on that, you'll be safe from any comment from me.

Also rutabagas. I make it a point never to comment on the subject of rutabagas.

Curmudgeon said...

DW:

You wrote: what are the standards that the SE applies in considering a guest commentary as a candidate for publication? Guidelines for letters are published but there are no published guidelines for guest commentaries. Imagine that!

You know, that's a damn good point. If the SE is going to apply general guidelines for accepting/rejecting Guest Commentaries, it ought to readers know what they are.

Dan S. said...

Curm:

The S-E has rejected five guest commentaries of mine in the last three years. In three cases they gave me explanations:

1. Too close to primary election day to publish what they perceived as an attack on Mayor Godfrey without giving him equal space to write on the same subject. They asked his office whether he would like to write something on that subject (gondola and foothill development) and although his secretary said sure, he later said no. Therefore they wouldn't publish my commentary either.

2. Commentaries may not be in response to editorials, unless the author is someone who was explicitly named in the editorial.

3. Topics must be "fresh", and must not have already been discussed in the blogosphere.

I think it's pretty clear that even if all three of these criteria had some basis in prior policy, all three of them were stretched to apply to what I had submitted. In the first case, after Godfrey refused to tell his side of the story, they should have gone ahead and printed my side. In the second case, I wasn't disagreeing with their editorial--I was merely using it as a starting point to say that they should be similarly concerned about what's going on in Ogden. And in the third case, they confused freshness to their own readers with freshness among WCF readers.

The pattern, however, is quite clear, in these cases and in the two where they gave no explanation: They have a policy of rejecting any guest commentary by Dan Schroeder that explicitly mentions the name of Mayor Godfrey.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

On point one, the SE fulfilled its fairness obligation when it offered the Mayor the opportunity to reply to your piece with a companion piece. The policy they quoted to you put the the power into the Mayor's hands to prevent a piece critical of him from being published simply by his refusing to provide the SE a response. That is nonsense and makes no sense. If the Mayor chooses not to submit an op-ed of his own, the SE should have, as you noted, gone ahead with yours, with a footnote or headnote informing readers the Mayor was offered space to reply and declined.

Point two makes little sense either, if the point of an editorial is, at least in part, to trigger community discussion about public affairs. Saying that discussion can take place in letters to the editor, but not in guest commentaries makes very little sense.

Ditto point three: I find it astonishing that the SE is willing to so openly concede its responsibility to its readers and to the public in general to bloggers wholly unaffiliated with the paper. If significant public issues are, the paper agrees, to be discussed by private bloggers, and that discussion eliminates the paper's need to cover such matters, then sooner or later the question naturally arises "I'm subscribing to the paper that's letting private bloggers do its work... why?"

I wonder said...

Chuckle....no fan of rutabagas, myself. Fall is approaching, it's been a long, hot Summer, and I guess you're getting both bored and antcie (sp?), looking ahead to college and such.

Thank goodness for the blog during these 'Dog Days of Summer." Gives a guy something to do.

Whew.

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